Thursday, February 17, 2011

Legislators trying to repeal living wage ordinances you won

   You gave countless hours of your time and donated countless dollars of your hard-earned money to make sure the Memphis and Shelby County living wage ordinances passed.

   Now state legislators who don't have a clue about working poverty are trying to repeal the laws you got passed locally.

   We've defeated these kinds of proposals in past legislatures. But make no mistake about it, this will be our toughest battle yet. And I need every one of you to take action to make sure that no worker has to face up to a 43 percent pay cut in this tough economy.

WIN members celebrate the passage of the City's living wage ordinance in 2006.

   The Memphis City Council passed its living wage ordinance in 2006, after years of your activism. It makes sure that the City of Memphis only contracts with businesses that pay living wages.

   After all, why should our City government give away our tax dollars to companies that create poverty jobs? Memphis certainly has enough of those already. In 2007, the Shelby County Commission also passed a living wage ordinance for its contractors.

   These ordinances are a great success. Workers are able to move out of poverty and meet their most basic needs. Neither the City or County has had problems with attracting qualified contractors. In fact, the City Council even expanded its living wage ordinance in 2008 to include the contractors of Memphis Light, Gas, and Water.

    So why are Rep. Glen Casada and Sen. Ketron trying to destroy these laws that are working just fine for Memphis and Shelby County government? They claim that it's just too confusing for companies to have living wage standards to keep up with in some situations and not in others. 

    Do they really expect you to believe that businesses that have to fill out the numerous records involved in becoming a city contractor can't keep up with two different pay rates? For all their talk about protecting businesses, Casada and Ketron must not think businesspeople are very smart.

   And Ketron and Casada must think that Memphis and Shelby County are not capable of running their own governments. The last time I checked, determining who gets local government contracts, and for what reasons, should be decided at the local level. 

   So, what's our plan for action? What can you do to protect the living wage and all the workers who depend on it for survival?
   Is it discouraging to have to face legislators from outside Shelby County every year who try to undo the good work we've done? Yes.

   But I find encouragement and hope in Psalm 140:12, which tells us "I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executives justice for the poor." May we do the same ourselves.

Want to take action with workers seeking justice? Sign up for email action alerts from Workers Interfaith Network.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Stand up for workers on Lobby Day

In 2004, WIN members like Rev. Jeff Irwin (left) held a lobby day to successfully stop a bill that would have killed our local living wage laws.

   I hope that you'll consider signing up to join the statewide Lobby Day for Living Wages and Good Jobs on March 15th in Nashville. As I wrote yesterday, there are many important worker rights bills - both good and terrible - that state legislators are considering this session. Now is the time to raise your voice!
   If you're not able to join us in Nashville, you can still speak up with workers as state legislators consider critical bills affecting their rights. Just sign up for WIN's email updates, so you'll know the best times to contact legislators about important bills.

    The Tennessee legislature began meeting yesterday and will wrap up in May, so the winter and spring are key times for you to advocate for workers' rights.

   This legislative session could present University workers with the opportunity for a fair raise, after three years of pay freezes. Advocates must also be prepared to defend workers' rights as legislators introduce bills to take away workers' rights to have unions, and bills that encourage racial profiling of immigrant workers.

Why participate in Lobby Day?

    When someone wants to you to do something, an email might work. A phone call or a letter is more likely to get your attention. But what really gets you thinking about the other person's request is a face to face conversation, isn't it?

    It's the same way with our state legislators. The best way to make sure they hear - and respond - to your concerns about workers' rights is to meet with them in person. That's why WIN invites you to join us in Nashville on March 15th with people from all across Tennessee.

March 15th Lobby Day Schedule

    While some details of this schedule may change, the departure and arrival times from Memphis will not change.

5:30 a.m.                 Vans leave midtown Memphis for Nashville.
9:00 - 10 a.m.         Training and roleplays for legislative visits.
10:00 a.m. - noon    Visits to legislators in teams
Noon - 1 p.m.          Rally for living wages and good jobs on capitol steps.
1:00 - 1:45 p.m.      Lunch break (on your own)
1:45 - 3:00 p.m.      Visits to legislators in teams
3:00 p.m.                 Vans leave Nashville for Memphis
7:00 p.m.                Vans arrive in midtown Memphis

    We'll make sure you have all the training and talking points you need to meet with your legislators. The lunchtime rally will be an energizing time to join with people from all across Tennessee who believe our state can do better for workers. Won't you join us?

   Sign up to participate in the March 15th Lobby Day for Living Wages and Good Jobs!

Monday, February 7, 2011

State legislators prepare slew of anti-worker bills

Legislative session also presents opportunity for progress on
living wage for University workers

    The Tennessee Legislature begins its real work today, February 7th. Usually they wrap up their legislative session by mid-May. That means that the winter and spring are key times for you to advocate for workers' rights.

    University workers in Memphis and across the state have endured pay freezes for the past three years. As workloads have mounted and health insurance costs skyrocketed, low-wage workers have struggled to pay their bills.

   The budget passed by legislators could determine whether University workers move a significant step closer to a living wage. But the only way the state budget will include raises for low-wage University workers is if legislators hear from people like you.

  Your action will also be urgently needed to stop a number of anti-worker bills that have been introduced or are planned (legislators have just two weeks from today to introduce all bills for the session.)

   In the last legislative session (2009), a bill was narrowly defeated that would have repealed the local living wage ordinances you worked so hard to establish in Memphis and Shelby County. It is very likely this bill be introduced again this year.

   A number of proposed bills this year attack the rights of public employees, especially teachers, to have a union. One bill takes away teachers' unions ability to negotiate the terms of teachers' employment with boards of education. WIN members like you know that when workers have a voice in workplace decisions through their union, it creates a more stable, productive workplace.

   Worker rights and immigrant rights' advocates are also very concerned about promises by state Sen. Bill Ketron to introduce a state immigration bill similar to Arizon's controversial SB 1070. Such a law would allow local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law. It would likely lead to racial profiling of Latinos and anyone who police decide seems foreign-born. It could also give employers an incentive to call the police on workers who complain about wage theft or other abuses.

Take Action
1) If you don't get WIN's email action alerts already, sign up now. Once the legislature starts to move, bills can progress very quickly. I'll send you alerts when your urgent action is needed.

2) Tomorrow I'll be posting about how you can participate in the Lobby Day for Living Wages and Good Jobs on March 15th in Nashville.