Monday, July 18, 2011

What inspires you to seek justice? Interview with Alfredo Pena

   The three of us who are privileged to work at Workers Interfaith Network all share something in common with each other and with you: a passion for seeking justice.

    As I've gotten to know my co-workers better over the years, I've been continually inspired by their stories of what brings them to this work. Then I thought, why not share these stories with you?  Today's story if from Alfredo Pena, WIN's Worker Rights Director. Maybe it will inspire you to share your story with us. Tell us in the comments section why you are an activist for workers' rights.

    Alfredo has worked at WIN since 2007, when he launched our Memphis Workers' Center project. The Workers' Center frequently partners with workers who have had their wages stolen by their employers. As Alfredo shares, he's been no stranger to wage theft in his own work life.

  The warehouse Alfredo talks about in the video is just one of the companies that stole his wages. He also worked at an oil change shop, where they made all the workers clock out when they didn't have customers. "I hoped if I went along with it, one day I would get a promotion. When I would get my paycheck and it would be very low, I would think 'I need to get more hours.'"

   Working at WIN, Alfredo has realized "this is why I was put here on this earth - to help other workers."

   It's painful to hear the many stories of explitation that workers share with him. But Alfredo is also encouraged by the workers who report back to him that they've been able to solve a problem. "Workers tell me, 'I want to thank you for listening to me. Because of what you said, I pushed forward. I didn't keep quiet. I stood up.' After a long day at work, a call like that keeps me going," Alfredo says.

  In the nearly four years since Alfredo started the Workers' Center, he has seen more workers take on leadership in the Center. Earlier this year, seven workers were elected to serve as a Steering Committee for the Center. He looks forward to the day when "the Workers' Center will be self-sustaining, from the support of our worker members."

    Share what inspired you: I would love to hear your story of where your passion for justice comes from. Tell us your story in the comments section below!

Get your advance discounted tickets for the Faith and Labor Picnic now:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Honor their struggles, take up their unfinished work

    There are several people I think of as "justice giants." They are people who gave themselves whole-heartedly to the struggle for labor justice. I think of people like T.O. Jones and Rev. Henry Logan Starks, a sanitation worker and pastor who gave leadership to the 1968 sanitation strike in Memphis.

    I am awed by what these leaders accomplished. But I would be doing them a dis-service by just admiring them. That's why I try to continue their unfinished work - just as you do - with my involvement with Workers Interfaith Network.

    I invite you to honor the work these justice giants have done, and continue their work, by becoming a sponsor of WIN's 9th annual Faith and Labor Picnic. Each sponsorship level honors a different "justice giant" who has been steadfast in upholding the rights of workers.

    How does your sponsorship continue the legacy of these workers? Your sponsorship gift will allow WIN to keep campaigning with University of Memphis workers until all of them are paid a living wage. WIN will soon be launching a new campaign against wage theft, which your sponsorship will also make possible.

    You might not realize it, but $1 out of every $7 raised for WIN this year will come from the Faith and Labor Picnic. That is, if folks like you will help us reach our goal of raising $24,500 from the Picnic. The majority of funds raised come from sponsorships from individuals like you, labor unions, community groups, and businesses.

   Wondering which justice giants your sponsorship will honor?

Your $10 sponsorship honors Dolores Huerta, the co-founder of the United Farm Workers union in California.
Your $25 sponosrship honors Alzada Clark, a pioneering union and civil rights activist who organized workers throughout the Mid-South.
Your $50 sponsorship honors A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and a leader of the March on Washington.
Your $100 sponsorship honors "Mother" Mary Jones, a travelling labor crusader who was arrested many times for her support of strikes in the early 20th century.
Your $250 sponsorship honors Cesar Chavez, the founder of the United Farm Workers union.
Your $500 sponsorship honors T.O. Jones, the Memphis sanitation worker who spear-headed the 1968 strike by AFSCME.
Your $1,000 sponsorship honors Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement in the mid-20th century.
Your $2,500 sponsorship honors Rev. Henry Logan Starks, an AME pastor who provided critical support to the 1968 Memphis sanitation strikers.

    If you are as inspired by these women and men as I am, please help us continue their legacy of uniting workers and people of faith into a strong voice for justice by becoming a Picnic sponsor today.

Have you "liked" Workers Interfaith Network on Facebook? When we reach 1,000 fans WIN will give away a VIP Faith and Labor Picnic prize package to one of our fans.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Mayor Wharton and City Council Dismantle Workers' Rights, Threaten Living Wage

    In case you missed it, the budget agreement passed by the Memphis City Council last week slammed the City's rank and file workers hard. 125 workers are going to be laid off. Sanitation workers will be offered buyouts, with the goal of reducing the department (which is currently contributing to the city's general fund) down to half its size. Death benefits were taken away from workers, though the City announced yesterday some of those benefits would be restored. Twelve of the thirteen paid holidays workers had were taken away.
    In their haste to pass a budget package - which is still not in writing, by the way - the Council ignored Councilman Joe Brown's assertion that workers' paid holidays were guaranteed by a City ordinance. Now that Mayor Wharton's administration has realized Councilman Brown was right, they're telling the City's rank and file workers they will have to accept a 4.6 percent salary cut.
   This salary cut comes after all the city's unions already negotiated pay and work agreements with the City this spring. In those agreements, workers went without any raises and agreed to absorb health insurance premium increases themselves. The unions upheld their responsibility to negotiate with the City in good faith, and now the City is trying to undo the agreements they've already come to with their workers.
    The agreements between the unions and the City are called memoranda of understanding. They include a procedure for dealing with situations of fiscal emergency. This procedure requires Mayor Wharton's administration to show their books to the unions to prove that a real hardship exists. So far, Mayor Wharton has been unwilling to do this. Instead his administration has urged the unions to "come to the table," without having key knowledge about what the City's financial situation really is.
    Furthermore, the Mayor's proposed 4.6 percent salary cut endangers the living wage resolution that the City Council passed in 2006, in which permanent City workers are to be paid at least $10 an hour. In 2007, the City Council passed another resolution promising temporary City workers at least $12 an hour because they do not receive any kinds of benefits. There are very likely workers being paid right at $10 and $12 an hour right now, and the pay cuts would violate the promise to pay a living wage.
     It's time for the citizens of Memphis to call on Mayor Wharton and City Council members to act in good faith with their workers.
    Here's how you can help:
  • Call Mayor Wharton's office at (901) 576-6000 and the City Council office at 576-6786. Tell them a pay cut for the city's rank and file workers is unacceptable. Urge the City to neogiate in good faith with workers' unions.
  • Come to the City Council meeting this Tuesday, July 5th at 3:30 p.m.
    No matter what happens in the next couple of weeks with the budget, this attack on the hard-working people who keep our city running is not over. We're working on long-term plans to address this attack, so keep your eyes open for more news from us soon.

   Special thanks to Brad Watkins of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center and Chad Johnson at AFSCME Local 1733 for their monitoring and reporting on all the budget developments with the City Council. I am drawing heavily on their work in this post.
Want to take action with workers seeking justice  and keep up to date on what's happening with City workers? Sign up for email action alerts from Workers Interfaith Network at