Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lord, when did I see you oppressed?

A reflection on the lectionary gospel reading for Sunday, November 20th

    The weekend of November 19th - 20th, Workers Interfaith Network is encouraging Mid-South congregations to observe a wage theft sabbath. The following post is a reflection on the Christian lectionary text that clergy can use to incorporate wage theft concerns into their sermons or homilies.

     Many Christian churches will celebrate Christ the King Sunday on November 20th. The lectionary text for the day, Matthew 25:31-46, gives us an opportunity to reflect on just what kind of a king Jesus is.
    The rulers of this world often seek power and wealth for themselves. In Matthew 25, Jesus once again points toward the "upside down" kingdom of God. He does not ask the nations when they have amassed gold for him or gathered armies for battle. Instead he declares that our actions toward the most impoverished and vulnerable have actually been done to him.

    In reading Jesus' words about the hungry, sick, and imprisoned, we might assume Christ only asks us to meet the immediate needs of the poor. If we consider Matthew 25 in light of Jesus' many other teachings about wealth, poverty, and injustice, we quickly see that providing comfort alone is not enough.

    From Jesus' announcement in Luke 4 that he has come to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to his turning over of the moneychangers' tables in the Temple, it is clear that the kingdom of God includes economic justice. It isn't hard to imagine Jesus adding another criteria to his long list in Matthew 25. I can hear the nations asking him, "Lord, when did we see you oppressed, and we acted for justice for you?" Other nations might ask, "Lord, when were you a victim of injustice, and we stayed silent?"

    After all, hunger, poverty, and injustice are intimately connected. Seeking God's kingdom means both feeding the poor and asking why they are hungry. And for many of our brothers and sisters, their hunger and poverty is through no fault of their own. Some cannot find work at all, or enough work to pay the bills. Others have worked hard, and have been taken advantage of by an employer who refuses to pay them.

    There are few insults that sting as deeply as laboring for another person, and then not receiving the pay that has been promised to you. While it is shocking, wage theft is not uncommon. Recent research suggests that as many as two out of three low-wage workers have been cheated out of some wages that are owed to them.

    The bad news is that when people of faith and good will are silent, wage theft continues unchecked.

    The good news is that when people of faith speak up with victims of injustices like wage theft, bad employers are much less likely to get away with cheating their workers.

     This is another way that the church can feed the poor, in addition to our food pantries and soup kitchens. When wage theft is stopped, many of the hungry and naked can feed and clothe themselves through their own labor, as they desired to all along.

Find more resources and sign up your congregation to participate in the wage theft sabbath.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Speak out for a living wage on November 1st

     Some people would say it's crazy to call for a living wage in this economy. Maybe it is a little crazy. But I'll tell you something else - it's working.

     Because of the activism of workers, students, and community members like you, the University of Memphis has taken first steps toward a living wage for their workers. All of last academic year, the United Campus Workers union, Workers Interfaith Network, and the Progressive Student Alliance publicly pushed the University to move to a living wage for all U. of M. workers. Many of you wrote emails and postcards, made phone calls to the University. You lobbied the state legislature. You took part in a speak out on campus, a prayer vigil, and a rally to deliver the hundreds of postcards you gathered for President Shirley Raines.

    The result? After four years of no pay raises, the University implemented a raise of 3% or $750 a year, which ever was greater. The $750 option, called a flat dollar minimum raise, is important because it's especially targeted to low-wage workers. Many custodial workers and other low-wage workers ended up getting 3 times as big of a raise because of this new approach. And it was an approach raised by activists like you!

   The University has also just implemented a one time $1,000 bonus for most full-time workers.
   But before you assume that our work is done, I also want to stress that many current workers at the University still make far below a living wage. Plus, the University has not changed any of its practices or policies about what new workers are paid when they are hired. Many new positions still pay just above minimum wage.

    That's why workers need you to come to a Living Wage Speak Out on Tuesday November 1st at 6:00 p.m. in Brister Hall Room 220.

    At the Speak Out, you'll:
  • learn about what pay and working conditions are like for workers right now.
  • understand how the first steps toward a living wage were won last academic year.
  • get involved in efforts this academic year to push the University to take further steps to a living wage.
  • hear from activists in the successful Vanderbilt University campaign for a living wage.
    Directions to Brister Hall: Brister is located on Alumni Ave., near the intersection of Alumni and Patterson St. There are two ways you can enter the building. If you are entering from the Alumni Ave. entrance, you will already be on the second floor when you enter. If you are entering from Wilder Tower (which is attached to Brister Hall), you will need to turn left at the elevators and go up 1 flight of stairs to get to the 2nd floor of Brister Hall.

    Parking info: A few metered spaces are available for visitors in the lot at Mynders and Patterson. There are also metered spots available in the large parking lot across the railroad tracks on Southern. Garage parking is available for $2 an hour in the garage on Zach Curlin, next to Campus School. You may also be able to find free street parking along Walker or Zach Curlin.
   View a University of Memphis campus map.

Help strengthen WIN's work for a living wage. Become a Workers Interfaith Network member today.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Encourage your congregation to join the wage theft Sabbath, Nov. 19th - 20th

To draw attention to the crisis of wage theft, and encourage people of faith to act, your congregation is invited to take part in a wage theft Sabbath during your regular worship services on November 19th - 20th.

There are many different ways that your congregation can participate:
  • Including prayers for victims of wage theft, and prayers for employers who are taking advantage of their workers, in your worship service.
  • Using our wage theft sabbath resource packet to develop a missions moment or sermon about wage theft.
  • Using a bulletin insert in the resource packet to educate your members about wage theft.
  • Inviting your members to fill out a pledge card to stop wage theft (found on the bulletin insert), and returning these pledge cards to WIN.
  • If you have low-wage workers in your congregation, holding a wage theft workshop before or after your regular service. WIN can provide a workshop leader to discuss what counts as wage theft and what workers can do if they're a victim. Just email me to request a workshop leader.
  • Taking up a collection to support WIN's work against wage theft.
I would love to be able to share with all of our members which congregations are participating, so if you plan to do one or more of the actions above, please send in the commitment form you can find in the resource packet.

Our wage theft sabbath resource packet is designed to make participating as easy as possible for your clergyperson or anyone else who helps plan worship. What's included?
  • A reflection on the Christian lectionary text for Sunday November 20th
  • A Jewish perspective on wage theft
  • A bulletin insert that includes a pledge card with many different actions people can take to stop wage theft
  • A responsive prayer
  • Suggested scriptures related to wage theft
  • Stories of two Memphis workers who have experienced wage theft
  • A more detailed description of what wage theft is, and answers to frequently asked questions about wage theft.
  • A commitment form you can return to let WIN know how your congregation plans to participate in the wage theft Sabbath.
    The wage theft Sabbath is part of a national week of action against wage theft that dozens of cities will be participating in. If you're located outside of Memphis and want to find out about activities in your area, contact Interfaith Worker Justice.

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