Monday, June 27, 2011

University of Memphis Raise Announcement: First Step to a Living Wage

    I'm excited to announce our first victory in the living wage campaign at the University of Memphis! On Thursday, the University of Memphis, along with other Tennessee Board of Regents, announced salary increases for fiscal year 2012. The proposed raises are 3 percent, or a minimum of $750 per full-time worker. Part-time workers will get raises in proportion to the hours they work. The raises must still be approved by the full Board of Regents.

U. of M. workers, students, and WIN members made this victory possible through many actions, including delivering 1,000 living wage petitions to President Raines' office.
     This is the first raise that higher education workers have received in four years, and it wouldn't have happened without the outcry from members of Workers Interfaith Network, United Campus Workers, and the Progressive Student Alliance. Thank you to everyone who rallied, sent emails, participated in vigils, and made calls to the University!

    You can be especially encouraged by the Board of Regents' decision to include flat dollar minimum raise of $750. About 2,500 workers at Board of Regents schools will be affected by the flat dollar raise. The United Campus Workers have been pushing this approach for years because it can move workers up to a living wage much faster than a percentage pay raise would. Rest assured, it is the living wage campaign carried out by workers, community members, and students that convinced the Board of Regents to use this approach.

    Of course, the University of Memphis has many more steps to take to bring all its workers up to a living wage. We look forward to hearing from President Raines about what the University's concrete plan and timelines are for implementing a living wage on campus.

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

Monday, June 13, 2011

Practicing What We Preach: Why WIN Employees Have a Union

by Rev. Rebekah Gienapp, executive director   
    When workers decide to form unions, often their employers go on the rampage. Holding lengthy meetings with workers to talk about the evils of unions, threatening to close the business, and illegally firing union supporters are all too common. But here at Workers Interfaith Network, I welcomed the opportunity for our employees to form a union, even though I am the "manager" around here.

WIN employees celebrate the signing of our first union contract.
   Two weeks ago, WIN signed a union contract with the St. Louis Newspaper Guild, Local 36047 of the Communication Workers of America. Why do we see this as a good thing for our organization and for our employees? Here's a few reasons:
  • Our employees deserve to have a voice in decisions made around here. This includes decisions about how their work should be done. A union contract provides a framework for that kind of collaborative decision-making.
  • It's not healthy for one person in an organization to have all the power. Everyone has biases, including me. Having a set process for disciplining employees helps limit that bias. And, if an employee, feels like I have made an unfair decision that doesn't follow our union contract, we have a way to work out that dispute.
  • The contract makes clear to our employees our commitment to pay living wages and provide health and retirement benefits. These are the things we advocate for every day for workers throughout Memphis. We want to provide the same kind of good jobs we advocate for here at WIN. We were already paying living wages and providing benefits before the contract was signed. But now we can't arbitrarily change those things without negotiating with our employees.
  • We're now a formal part of the labor movement, which has done so much for all workers - not just union members. We can thank unions for so many things - the minimum wage, the 8 hour work day, the end of child labor, and much more. Our employees' union membership is a small way to strenghten this important movement.
  • Union membership gives WIN access to quality health care and retirement plans at a reasonable cost. Because we're now part of national plans through the Communication Workers, our health care premiums are much lower than they would be otherwise.
    Too many employers see any gain for their workers as a loss for their organization or business. Here at WIN, we see things differently. Treating our employees the way we want all workers to be treated brings integrity to our work. It helps create an atmosphere of loyalty, where WIN employees stick around for the long haul to organize for justice. And as a supervisor, the presence of a union reminds me to check my own actions with employees for fairness. Because I don't know about you, but I always find room for improvement in myself!

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

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I want to answer your questions - what are they?

      If you clicked on WIN's "Frequently Asked Questions" page, what would you want to be sure you could find out?

    Thanks to the generosity of the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis - and the matching gifts that you made - WIN will soon have a new website. Because many people first learn about WIN through the website, I want to be sure we answer their most pressing questions about our work. But to do that, I need your help figuring out what questions to answer.
   You - or someone you've talked to about WIN - might have questions about:
  • the specific issues we address, like wage theft, living wages, or the right to organize a union. For example, would you want to know how much a living wage is in Memphis right now?
  • what rights you have as a worker. Is there something going on at your workplace that seems fishy? What is it?
  • how we use your donations.
  • whether we do more harm that good. You (or other people you've talked to about WIN) might have skeptical questions about us. For example, doesn't workers having a union just make it more likely the company will have to close down because it's so expensive?
  • something I haven't thought of at all. Just tell me what it is!
    I really want this Frequently Asked Questions page to be useful. To be useful, I need to know your honest questions - or the ones other people have asked you. This includes the questions that you didn't want to say out loud because you thought they sounded too negative. After all, if people have those kinds of questions, I sure want to answer them.
    So please, take a moment to jot down the question(s) that pop into your head when you hear the name Workers Interfaith Network. You can leave your questions in the comments below, or on WIN's Facebook page. Thanks in advance for your help. I look forward to revealing the new website to you this summer!

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