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Article originally posted by Center for American Progress.

Rev. Liz Muñoz is an Arise Chicago Board Member

 

By: By Jack Jenkins | June 14, 2013

Listen to the interview here (mp3)

Fast Food Workers Job Action

Jack Jenkins: Hello. My name is Jack Jenkins, Senior Writer and Researcher with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative here at the Center for American Progress. With me today is Rev. Liz Muñoz, an Episcopal priest at St. James Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois, who also sits on the board of directors for Arise Chicago, an organization that builds partnerships between faith communities and workers to fight workplace injustice through education, organizing, and advocating for public policy changes.

We brought in Rev. Muñoz this afternoon because she is involved with the Chicago iteration of what are being called the “fast-food strikes.” Since January, fast-food and retail workers in seven cities—New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, and most recently Seattle—have all gone on strike, walking out of their workplaces en masse demanding higher wages and the right to unionize. And the movement looks to be growing.

But since these workers don’t usually have a union to organize them, they rely on partnerships with local community groups—including faith groups and faith leaders such as Muñoz—to help coordinate their efforts.

So Rev. Muñoz, we’re excited to have you here today!

Rev. Liz Muñoz: My pleasure, thank you.

JJ: Let’s start with a little explanation about the fast-food strikes. Can you tell us a little bit about what’s happening with this campaign? Why are fast-food workers and retail workers striking in the first place?

LM: Sure. Here in Chicago, inspired by the work that was being done in New York and other places, fast-food and retail workers came together last fall to form a movement asking for both just wages—here in Chicago we’re talking about the fight for 15, or for $15 an hour—and the right to organize.

These are folks who are actually working in and around St. James Cathedral on Michigan Mile, also known as the Magnificent Mile, which makes a tremendous amount of money. I think $4 billion a year goes through cash registers there on Magnificent Mile. So the folks who work there—mostly at places such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Macy’s, and Sears—are rightfully saying that they’re the people on the economic front lines. By greeting and serving the customers, they’re at the front line of the $4 billion industry. But fast-food workers only make about $9.36 an hour on average and retail workers maybe a little bit more: $9.80 an hour. And they work an average of 24 hours a week—certainly not enough to provide for their families or to invest in the neighborhood.

So they came together last November and had their founding conventionhere at St. James Cathedral, and have since been organizing various actions. This included a one-day strike in April where they demanded a $15-an-hour minimum wage, the right to organize, and better working conditions—e.g., more hours, a fair assessment of their work, among other things.

JJ: Could you say a little bit more about the context of the workers? What their lives are like, what their experience is, what their day to day is?

LM: Well, most of the workers come from the south side and the west side of Chicago, which are the poor sides of town. These are parts of the city that don’t have as many resources in terms of public spaces, schools, parks, among other things. These workers average about 20 hours a week, earning about $11,300 or so a year; that’s not enough to support their families. They’ve done studies on the cost of living here, and they found that for one adult and one child to be able to live in Chicago without having to rely on government assistance—we’re talking no extras, no going out, no eating out, or similar things—a worker would have to make $17 an hour.

So basically, I think workers are being generous. They’re asking for $15 an hour in order to support their families and not have to rely on public assistance. They’re asking for more hours to work, and they’re asking for better working conditions so they can contribute to the economy here in Chicago and in their neighborhoods.

We’re talking about a worker making $11,000 a year, for example, at McDonald’s. By contrast, the total annual compensation for a fast-food CEO is $8.8 million.

JJ: Wow.

LM: Yeah. And McDonald’s makes about $34.2 billion a year. Making a profit of about $5.5 billion. So there’s obviously the possibility of providing for workers without taking a significant cut in profits, while also allowing for workers to provide for their families and invest in the very system that McDonald’s and other large companies are invested in. Henry Ford, one of the leaders of industry, once said that you’ve gotta pay workers enough so they can buy the product.

Oh, and the other thing I want to say: It used to be that these jobs were summer jobs for high school and college students to make a little extra cash for tuition and for spending money. Nowadays the median age of a fast-food worker is 29. Also the majority of the people working in these jobs are women. This is a family issue. Talk about your family values; how are people going to support their families?

This is also a growing area. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 7 out of 10 growth occupations over the next decade will be low-wage jobs such as serving customers at big-box retailers or fast-food chains. These are the jobs that are available. Retail and fast-food the areas that are growing by about 60 percent in terms of jobs.

This is the new economy. And in this new economy, we need to be able to provide workers with a livable minimum wage.

JJ: Would you say that the strikes are working? Have we seen an impact from these strikes?

LM: Well, I think there’s been impacts in all kinds of different ways. For example, workers who had been working the same job for seven years without a raise or opportunity for advancement are now being recognized. And small—and I say small—concessions are also being made. There’s a worker in McDonald’s here in Chicago who had been working seven years and never received a raise. He now has been offered the opportunity for training as a crew chief.

But even more important than that is the fact that companies are recognizing that this is not going away. Meanwhile, the workers are recognizing that they have power and the right to organize and to speak out for just wages, not just for themselves but for workers around the country. For example, two or three weeks ago, workers came together and took petitions to shareholders’ meetings at McDonald’s here in Chicago, and I accompanied them. The workers were not allowed in, but a representative from Chicago did come and take the petition. So the workers felt that they had made something happen.

This would not have happened had they not organized. If they had simply gone and taken petitions individually—which they have tried to do in the past—it wouldn’t have happened. But as a movement, as a group gathering together, there’s a greater possibility for response. Also important is the recognition that when they stand together there is more power, more possibility for change.

JJ: Now, you’re a faith leader. What is your involvement with the fast-food strikes in Chicago, and what are other faith leaders doing to help?

LM: At St. James we have opened our doors and offered workers a place to meet for convention and weekly meetings. We’ve gone out with workers at different actions to support their right not only to ask for just wages but also to go on strike. So the day of the strike back in April, we opened the doors of the church to about 300 to 600 workers and organizers who were at the church that day. The following day, faith leaders such as myself, as well as elected officials and community leaders, walked the workers back to their workplaces to let the managers know that we were supporting their right to organize, their right to strike. We wanted them to know that this was a community effort that was being supported by people in and around the neighborhood and the city of Chicago. We also wanted to assure that there would be no retaliation against these workers.

JJ: Why do you think faith communities and faith leaders are involved with these strikes? What basic principles and values are at stake here?

LM: Well, first of all I would say that it’s biblical. The prophets often warned people about landowners and those who controlled jobs and wages. “Woe to those who did not pay the workers just wages or who withheld wages.” Ezekiel, Isaiah, Micah, all these prophets spoke to this issue. Jesus told many parables of workers being paid just wages and right wages.

In fact, throughout history one of the core Christian justice issues has been economics. The World Council of Churches and various denominations have also passed resolutions on this issue. My own denomination, the Episcopal Church, has passed resolutions at several conventions upholding the right of workers to organize.

JJ: So it sounds like there is a larger movement at work here—a sort of collaboration between faith groups and the greater labor movement. What connection do you see between these two groups especially moving forward?

LM: In this country we are in an age of crisis—of economic crisis. I don’t think anybody would deny that. As faith leaders we are called to respond to that kind of crisis. This is true throughout the Bible. The prophets have called leaders and people of faith to stand up.

To quote the prophet Ezekiel, “God said, I look for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land.”

I think we as faith leaders are called to stand in between that gap, to point out where injustice is happening, where there are wolves, so to speak, tearing at the net. We’ve seen this all over. We’re seeing this in cuts in the budget and in education. We’re seeing record profits in corporations. We’re seeing a rise in income inequality, as well as less and less opportunities for the laborers and for the majority of people in this country. So, from a biblical perspective, that’s where many faith leaders come from. But this cuts across different faith traditions as well: Jewish, Muslim, and Christian.

JJ: Just one more question. You’ve talked a lot about collaborations between faith groups and other community groups in Chicago during these fast-food strikes. Could you say a little bit more about the role of collaborations and coalition building in this work?

LM: Right. I think a lot of different organizations are coming together—churches, community-based groups such as Action Now here in Chicago, churches similar to my own—because there’s a crisis in this country, and we recognize that all these different issues are actually related. The issue of worker’s rights is related to the issue of immigrant rights. It’s related to the issue of women’s rights. It’s an economic issue too, because in this country, more and more of the wealth is at the top, and very, very little of the wealth is being dispersed among the people who need it most.

As the consequence 49 elementary schools just got closed down here in Chicago. There are less mental health and health care services available. There are less opportunities for people to come together and actually plan a future for themselves and for their children. So we come together as faith leaders to support those workers and those community leaders who are looking to improve not just the status of individual workers but also the condition of all people, so that the wealth that is being concentrated at the top can be distributed and shared and used to promote the well-being of all.

JJ: Awesome. Well that’s about all the time we have for today. Rev. Muñoz, thank you so much for joining us. It was great speaking with you, and we look forward to hearing more about your work with the fast-food strikers as they continue to fight for their right to organize and for a living wage.

LM: Thank you, you’ve been most kind. I appreciate it.

Article posted by the Center for American Progress: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jack Jenkins is a Senior Writer and Researcher with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. 

Original article posted on the Center for American Progress website.

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by Rev. John H Thomasjohn_thomas CTU photo

Two articles in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune provided a revealing, if unintended reminder of the injustices lying at the heart of America’s public schools.  At New Trier High School in one of the wealthier suburbs of Chicago, all students will have iPads for their course work by the Fall of 2014.  The district will pay about 40% of the costs, leaving families to come up with the remaining $350 in purchase or leasing options.  School officials justify this by touting the educational benefits and by pointing out that this will allow the school to phase out some of its 1200 laptops.  One page away is an article about the school board of the City of Chicago which voted yesterday afternoon to close 50 public elementary schools.  In thousands of districts like New Trier, students are getting iPads; in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and many other places, students are getting moving orders and teachers are losing jobs.

Later on in the same paper The Tribune revealed its editorial bias, offering Mayor Rahm Emmanuel space to justify the closings, while devoting its editorial to a cynical and shameful attack on Chicago teachers.  Praising the “heroic” teachers who saved lives in Moore, Oklahoma, The Tribune called on teachers in Chicago to abandon their protest against the massive school closings and become “heroes” by obediently implementing the policies of the Chicago Public School Board and its leader, the Mayor.  Excuse me!  Chicago Public School teachers are already heroes.  They don’t need the condescension of The Tribune.  And they don’t need to be unjustly demeaned as less worthy than teachers in Moore.  Today they need our gratitude for speaking the truth about the nature and impact of these school closings.

Unlike the teachers in Moore, Chicago teachers’ schools are not gone because of some capricious act of nature.  They are gone because of decades of very deliberate decisions by public officials, corporate interests and ordinary citizens that have eviscerated the neighborhoods of Chicago, displacing people with the demolition of public housing, gutting communities with foreclosures and the elimination of jobs.  The schools are gone because they have been replaced by charter schools, the darlings of politically well-connected school reformers making a profit on tax money while public officials eliminate the inconvenience of teachers unions.  The schools are gone because poor African Americans and Hispanics in Chicago are disenfranchised by school governance that is appointed by the mayor with limited accountability to the communities.  The schools are gone because public funding in this country remains tied to real estate taxes that benefit wealthy suburbs at the expense of the urban core.  The schools are gone because years of school reforms imposed from the latest outside savior have left front line teachers abused and demoralized and their students underachieving.  And the schools are gone because white flight that began decades ago has left the cities brown and black and poor.

Who makes decisions about public schools today?  The President who attended the prestigious Punahou private school in Hawaii and who sends his daughters to the University of Chicago Laboratory School and the Sidwell Friends School in Washington.  The Secretary of Education who attended the same Lab School in Chicago.  An appointed school board whose membership until recently included billionaire Penny Pritzker, now the appointee to be Secretary of Commerce.  She attended the Castilleja School in Palo Alto where 415 girls in grades six to twelve enjoy the attention of 70 full and part time faculty members.  In Chicago that school would be deemed “underutilized.”  And where do the Mayor’s kids go to school?  No threats from school closings for them.  They, too, are at the University of Chicago Lab School.  These powerful gurus of public school reform didn’t go to public schools and don’t send their children to public schools.  They benefited from the growing educational apartheid in this country and they participate in it today.

I don’t suggest that these policy makers sat down and said, “Let’s close the schools of poor Black and Hispanic kids in Chicago and make sure that New Trier kids have iPads.”  But here are the facts:  The schools closed today in Chicago are 88% black, 10 % Hispanic, and 94% low income.  And next year the kids in New Trier will all have new iPads.  Almost 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education our schools are more and more separate, and more and more unequal.

Please don’t tell me that this is a complex issue, that there are no good solutions, that anguished appointed school board members merely did what they had to do given the economic circumstances.  I’ve read the reports.  I’ve seen the studies.  I’ve talked to experts.  I can tell you what the real story is about charter school performance.  I think I have made a pretty good effort to understand what’s going on.  Whatever the specifics, this is about race and poverty and antipathy to unions and political influence and public indifference (how telling that for a time yesterday morning while the Board was deliberating on its closure vote, the lead online story for The Tribune was Bear’s football hero Brian Urlacher’s retirement announcement).

I have no doubt that the Chicago school teachers will do as much to protect their children this September navigating new routes to schools across dangerous gang lines as the teachers in Moore did for their students when the tornado came earlier this week. They don’t need editorial writers to tell them to do that.  But when their students ask them why their school is gone, just as students in Moore are no doubt asking right now, Chicago teachers won’t have a changing and dangerous climate or the proverbial “act of God” to point to.  Their answers will be equally sad, but far more sinister.

John Thomas is a Board member of Arise Chicago

Originally posted on the John Thomas blog on the Chicago Theological Seminary website.

Re-posted with permission.

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By Luke Sullivan

Within my first few weeks at Arise Chicago, I remember distinctly speaking with a worker who came in to our worker center who made minimum wage. Our conversation eventually turned to how stressful her life had become. She worked full time and just could not afford clothes, food, schooling and many other necessities for her children. Because of this, she was forced to begin the process of moving to another city to live with her brother. Her children had only known living in Chicago and she was so saddened and downtrodden that she would have to move her children away from the only life they had ever known.

This conversation has remained with me and I think is a powerful example of why the current minimum wage is unfair and unjust. How can someone working full time not be able to afford life’s basic necessities? This is one of many reasons why I was so excited when I was first introduced to the Raise Illinois coalition, a campaign to raise the minimum wage in Illinois. This group hopes to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. One of the many statistics that is used to support this raise is if the minimum wage had risen with the cost of living over the past 40 years, it would be $10.39 per hour today. The coalition wishes to raise it to $10.65 per hour over a four year span and tie it to inflation thereafter. It is not about a handout so all workers can live in great luxury, but about fairness and justice. Plus it makes economic sense: the more money workers have, the more money they are able to spend; if these wages were to increase, the economy will be strengthened.

The Raise Illinois campaign aims to give all families the fundamental necessities to sustain a fulfilling life and to raise a family. It is unjust for members of our community and our state to work full-time and still live in poverty. This is why I was so excited to travel to Springfield, Illinois on December 5th with five Worker Center members, on behalf of Raise Illinois, to educate lawmakers on the need to increase the state minimum wage.

The five workers made the trip in order to share their stories about how, even when working full-time, the minimum wage is so low that it is keeping working families like theirs in poverty. One of the workers, Maria Winnie Gonzalez, while speaking to one state representative who was undecided on the issue, pleaded that being a minimum wage worker did not allow her to “buy clothes, food, and so many other things that my children and entire family need.”

IMG_0773The workers wanted all lawmakers, even those unavailable that day, to hear their voice, so they also left a note in Sen. John Mulroe’s office, which was signed by all the workers, asking him to do God’s Justice and raise the minimum wage to a living wage. It is true that their families and the families of so many of their friends and co-workers need this raise.

As a Dominican Volunteer, my faith is very important to me. Jesus says it succinctly when he is speaking to God, saying, “That they may be one, just as we are one.” I think Jesus is telling us to stand in kinship and solidarity, as one, with all people. In this case, we must stand as one so all workers may be treated fairly and not be left behind. For though we may come from different backgrounds and experiences, we are all children of God; and in that, we share a common humanity.

Throughout these past few months at Arise, there have been several campaigns that also work to demand dignity and respect for all workers. I have seen this through working with the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Committee, the Arise Chicago Car Wash campaign, the Fight For Fifteen coalition, and so many other movements throughout the city. It has never been about gaining great luxuries and wealth, but instead about making sure everyone in society can earn a decent living. For me, these campaigns are all really asking the same question: “Instead of worrying about the bottom line, shouldn’t we be more concerned about the people who line the bottom?”luke (4)

In January 2011, Senate Bill 1565 was first introduced into the legislature to progressively increase the minimum wage to $10.65 per hour and tie it to the cost of living thereafter. Currently, we are hoping the bill will be passed in the lame duck session of Congress in early January 2013. The coalition is asking for your time and your prayers to see to it that God’s Justice is done, and that this bill is signed into law.

Luke Sullivan is the Religious Organizer for Arise Chicago and also a Dominican Volunteer.

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by: Jennifer Angarita

Layout 1Domestic workers, such as caregivers and nannies, make all forms of other work possible and play an increasingly significant role in the U.S. economy. However, a new national study found, on average, domestic workers earn little more than minimum wage and few receive benefits like Social Security, health insurance or paid sick days.

Conducted by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the study released today offers a startling and provocative look into the often-invisible world of domestic workers. Based on interviews with 2,086 workers across the country, researchers found domestic workers face serious financial hardships and have little control over their working conditions.

As a critical part of the U.S. labor force, domestic workers help thousands of working families by enabling them to focus on their jobs. Yet, they are often paid well below the level needed to adequately support their own family. Forty percent of workers report having paid some of their essential bills late in the previous cycle and 23% are unable to save any money for the future.

One worker featured in the report, Anna, reveals how she was “originally promised $1,500” to work as a live-in nanny in Manhattan but received less than half that amount, averaging “just $1.27 an hour.” According to the report, “Anna sleeps on the floor between the children she cares for, so she is the first to respond to their calls and the last to see them off to sleep.”

Anna’s story exemplifies how the absence of legal protections for domestic workers shapes the systemic substandard pay and conditions they experience. Domestic workers are excluded from federal and most states’ minimum wage laws, as well as by unemployment insurance, anti-discrimination and workers’ compensation laws. They also are excluded from the right to organize and collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions.

Additionally, the majority of domestic workers are women of color and immigrants, a number of whom are undocumented. Researchers found wages differ significantly across ethnicity and immigration status.

At the launch event for the report’s release, Ai-jen Poo, the director of NDWA, said, “The nature of work is changing [in today’s workplaces]. We need 21st century policies that value the dignity of domestic work.”

The study calls for the end of the exclusion of domestic workers from labor laws, including state minimum wage laws and workers’ compensation. Without access to collective bargaining and legal protections, domestic workers remain vulnerable in today’s workplaces.

However, nannies, household cleaners and other domestic workers both in the United States and abroad have organized for years to raise labor standards and improve working conditions. New York became the first state in 2010 to legislate a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, granting overtime pay and other legal rights. Today, domestic workers around the nation are continuing to advocate for similar laws in other states.

In an effort to help raise labor standards for all working people, the AFL-CIO formed a national partnership with the National Domestic Workers Alliance in 2011. Through advocacy and organizing at both the local and state level, domestic workers are joining together with the union movement to help build power for working families.

Read the entire report: “Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work.”

 Originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW blog. Re-posted with permission.

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A great op-ed in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune from University of Illinois professor of labor relations Steven Ashby.

 

chicagotribune.com

 

There’s something happening here

 

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis attends a rally on the second day of the Chicago teachers strike. (E. Jason Wambsgans, Chicago Tribune / September 27, 2012)

 

By Steven Ashby

September 27, 2012

 

Teachers go on strike in Chicago and Lake Forest. Chicago symphony musicians walk out. Machinists walk picket lines in Joliet, and Wal-Mart warehouse workers stop working in Elwood. Gov. Pat Quinn gets chased from the state fair by angry government workers, and talk of a state workers strike is rumbling.

“There’s something happening here. What it is, ain’t exactly clear,” wrote Stephen Stills in a 1968 song that came to symbolize the 1960s as a decade of social movements and rapid change.

The same words aptly describe labor relations in the United States today. It seems, as 1960s icon Bob Dylan sang in 1964, “the times they are a-changin’.”

In February 2011 we witnessed the Wisconsin workers’ uprising. When Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature passed unprecedented anti-union legislation that also deeply cut social services, hundreds of thousands of people came to the state capital to protest, and several thousand occupied the Capitol for two weeks.

That movement ended with the governor beating a recall effort. Similar legislation in Ohio, though, was overturned when, instead of a recall, organizers turned to a referendum and won 61 percent of the vote in support of workers’ rights.

Then in September 2011 the Occupy Wall Street movement erupted and rapidly spread to hundreds of cities across the country. Tens of thousands of previously uninvolved young people took to the streets — and tents—– to protest the Great Recession and income inequality, and made “1 percent” and “the 99 percent” part of our national discourse. That movement dissipated as winter weather hit and police tore town tent cities.

Things turned quiet again, leading pundits earlier this year to suggest that Wisconsin and Occupy were blips on an otherwise quiet labor relations landscape.

Then the Chicago Teachers Union strike happened. What was most notable was that this was not a typical strike of recent years, where a small number of strikers passively picket a site and the real action is going on at the bargaining table. Instead, the CTU mobilized nearly all of its 26,000 members in daily mass rallies and marches, and drew in large numbers of supporters.

Historical change is often best understood by looking at turning points — key moments when history began to dramatically change. Three citywide labor strikes in 1934 ended a period of relative passivity and heralded the country’s largest and most successful worker uprising. The 1955 Montgomery bus boycott initiated the nation-changing civil rights movement.

So are Wisconsin, Occupy and the CTU strike another turning point that future historians will see as the beginning of a new mass workers’ movement demanding social change?

If I was a betting man, I’d put my money on it. One key ingredient in the making of historical turning points is that people begin to view street protests as normal instead of weird. Instead of viewing a mass march on TV or the occupation of a building as strange and scary, many people watch those same events and think to themselves, “Good for them. That’s what it takes to get anything done in this country. Maybe I’ll join them.”

You could feel that if you picketed or marched with the Chicago teachers — the constant horn honking in solidarity, the waves and smiles of people from building windows or porch stoops, even the nods of approval from police officers.

Another ingredient in the making of historical turning points is the creation of hope. Occupy and Wisconsin inspired hundreds of thousands of people — but neither succeeded in making change. But the Chicago teachers strike was a clear victory for the union.

Teachers nationwide watched this strike closely and drew hope. The success of the seven-day CTU strike will undoubtedly encourage teachers unions across the country to stand their ground and escalate their efforts to defend public education.

And unionists across the country noted that the foundations for the teachers’ victory were laid over the past two years, as the CTU launched a “contract campaign” to educate, organize and mobilize its members. Every school established an organizing committee. Every member was talked to, their concerns discussed, their activism encouraged. In May the union put 6,000 teachers in the streets of downtown Chicago. In June the union overcame a unique anti-CTU law, Senate Bill 7, and turned out 92 percent of its members to nearly unanimously give the leadership strike authorization.

And during the strike, nearly all of the 26,000 teachers participated in enthusiastic, daily marches; picketed daily at schools; and met regularly to discuss strike issues and actions. They were joined by sizable numbers of supporters who came as a result of two years of the union building strong ties with community and parent organizations, and honing the message that the union fought first and foremost to defend a quality public education for every student.

This is the template for successful organizing. This is the soup from which hope emerges.

Steven Ashby is a professor of labor relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

 

 

 

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By Talia Stein

Each year on Passover, Jewish people retell the story of the Israelites being slaves in Egypt and their journey out of slavery to freedom.  Passover is holiday focused around remembering struggles of the past and connecting them to our current lives.  There are several traditions that are incorporated into the Passover Seder.  Among them are eating matzah (the bread of affliction), eating bitter herbs, and dipping vegetables in salt water (the salt water representing tears).  These traditions are meant to remind us of the pain and suffering experienced by the Israelites in slavery.  There are also rituals incorporated to “experience” the freedom after the exodus, such as drinking wine while leaning on comfortable pillows.

Because of this theme of leaving slavery toward freedom, Passover Seders are often used as a place to connect various social justice issues to the holiday of Passover.  Specifically, a Seder about workers rights may tell the story of exploited workers’ journey to achieving justice on the job.  A Labor Seder focused on workers rights not only educates participants about relevant and current workers rights struggles, but also fulfills this idea of remembering the story of the Israelites in Egypt and connecting it to the present. A Labor Seder has the ability to bring together the Jewish, progressive, and labor communities while exploring different worker struggles.

This year, Arise Chicago, AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, and Moishe House Chicago put together a Labor Seder with the help of the Jewish Labor Committee and Rabbi Brant Rosen from the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation.  At the Seder, people from all over Chicago heard from workers about their experiences and struggles with their jobs, as well as the campaigns going on in Chicago to support them.  For instance, we heard from a Hyatt worker about the unjust working conditions and unfair treatment of co-workers. A janitor talked about the struggle she and her fellow workers faced in trying to win a fair new contract.  In addition, we connected traditional elements of the Passover Seder to current workers rights issues.  For example, rather than reciting the traditional Four Questions, which ask why the Seder night is different from all other nights (the Four Questions are: Why do we eat matzah and not bread; why do we eat the bitter herbs; why do we dip two items in tonight; and why do we eat reclining or leaning slightly to the side), we discussed four questions relating to domestic workers.  Specifically, we asked and answered why domestic workers need a bill of rights; what are some of the protections that a domestic workers bill of rights would provide; what does Passover have to do with domestic workers; and what can each of us do to support the domestic workers bill of rights.  Later, Arise lifted up the story of the 136 Rolf’s Patisserie workers who lost their jobs without warning last December.  We talked about how the workers stayed united to fight for the payment of their final paychecks, which had bounced—and how they won.  All present were asked for their support as the workers continue their struggle to receive the 60 days pay owed to them under the WARN Act.

Overall, the evening was full of learning, singing, discussing and eating.  People left inspired to learn more about various workers rights issues and interested in taking action to stop current workplace injustice and prevent future injustices.  Find photos of this year’s Labor Seder below.

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Talia is a Religious Organizer at Arise Chicago through AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps

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By Aziza Nassar

January 31st was a day that I will never forget.

I joined 67 of my fellow brothers and sisters in faith in Springfield, as part of the Raise Illinois coalition, to present petitions to our state legislators to pass Senate Bill 1565, a bill to raise the minimum wage in Illinois.  The petitions we presented were in the form of a scroll that included signatures of over 200 religious leaders from all over Illinois.

I was overwhelmed to be a part of such an action because it is so personal to me. Being the eldest daughter to a widowed mother of five, I felt like it was my responsibility not just for myself, but also for my family. After my father passed away in 2002, money was tight; with no family to turn to, my mother had no choice but to work a minimum wage job.  Remembering this motivated me as I struggled with my wheelchair on the Amtrak train we took from Chicago to the Capitol.

“You are so strong,” said Shon Robertson of Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, as we were boarding out of the train. I knew I had to be. A raise of one or two dollars per hour may not seem much for many, but it would make a huge difference for my family. As a Muslim, my faith taught me that I should work hard and try to perfect all that I do because there will be baraka, blessings, in my earnings. Similarly, many faith traditions including Islam stress the importance of just compensation.

Once we arrived in Springfield,  Raise Illinois held a press conference in the capitol rotunda. Revs. Norval Brown, Jackie Lynn, Bonnie Osei-Frimpong and economist Ron Baiman were among those who spoke. Rev. C.J. Hawking, Executive Director of Arise Chicago, brought a great spirit to the conference when she presented a scroll of faith leader signatures stretching 5 feet long to Senator Kimberly Lightford, the lead sponsor of the bill, and led the crowd in an uplifting chant that brought a powerful energy.

The excitement encouraged us as we proceeded to our legislators offices.  Although I was not able to meet legislators from my district, I met with State Rep Al Riley.  At first he seemed hesitant to speak to us before the press conference, explaining that this may not be the best time for a raise in minimum wage, but he supported Raise Illinois in the end by saying that we should continue building relationships because strength is in numbers.

Although it was my first time in Springfield, I felt at home. I was comfortable knowing I had made a difference. You can too. Make your voice heard by taking action. If you live in Illinois and/or are a Faith Leader, please sign one of the petitions and join the fight for fair minimum wage in Illinois!

-Aziza is the Zakat Intern at Arise Chicago

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On Dec. 11, 2011, the 136 workers of Rolf’s Patisserie in Lincolnwood, Ill., were unceremoniously fired without even a day’s warning. They were paid their final checks four days later–only to have them bounce.

Rolf’s workers began organizing with Arise Chicago to demand that their former boss, Lloyd Culbertson, pay them what they are owed under the law: their final checks and 60 days severance pay, the latter of which is guaranteed to them under the federal WARN Act.

Yesterday, Rolf’s workers gathered to announce a partial victory. After organizing to pressure Culbertson to pay them what they are owed, workers have begun to receive the payment for their final bounced checks and their accrued vacation pay. The fees they accrued at currency exchanges and banks, however, remain unpaid; more importantly, they still have not received their WARN Act pay. Rolf’s workers announced that they remain committed to fighting for all the pay owed them under the law.

 

Footage from the press conference: 

 

 

For pictures, visit our Flickr page.

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By: Jacob Lesniewski

The need for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level is even more pressing as immigrants face the hodgepodge of state and local legislative efforts and federal enforcement programs that vary from county to county.  The passage of   “Dream Acts” in Illinois or Connecticut is offset by the passage of  “Nightmare Acts” in Georgia or Alabama.  Instead of national leadership and thoughtful opinions from pundits we are left with divorced from reality musings on the necessity of E-verify by Ross Douhat of the New York Times.  This need for comprehensive immigration reform and the danger of enforcement-only programs like E-verify is clear from the daily lives of immigrant and non-immigrant workers.  Restrictive and frankly racist laws passed recently make the tragically flawed assumption that documentation status is something easily and simply ascertained with minimal interruption to the daily lives and workings of communities and families.  This is true of E-Verify, even if we assume its 40% error rate is somehow overcome in some blissful future by a bureaucracy that still takes between 13-14 years to process citizenship applications for Mexican nationals.  The status quo or enforcement only approaches have the effect of snaring all those who look or act “undocumented” regardless of their documentation status in their web of restriction and punishment.  Looking or acting undocumented is usually a pretty standard package of being Latino, Spanish-speaking, and working in a low-wage job.

For one Arise-Chicago member, Jose (a pseudonym) a naturalized citizen of theUnited States whose first language is Spanish, the consequences of “looking undocumented” are personal and significant.  Jose works in the back of the house at a restaurant and fits whatever other parameters of the profile of an “undocumented” worker one can invent.  For this member, as well as for so many others in his situation, the consequences of fitting the profile means abuse, discrimination, and job loss. The restaurant that Jose works at is a prestigious local chain, with locations in the city and the suburbs.  In order to avoid paying overtime for employees working in multiple sites, one manager made all the “undocumented-looking” workers change their social security numbers in order to continue working at that location.  Jose complained, was told to comply or be fired, and was caught changing his number (as his manager demanded) and fired by the company’s mainoffice.  Fired for obeying a manager’s order that assumed he was just another “illegal” working in the kitchen of an expensive restaurant, where the price of a dinner is equal to the daily wage of the “obviously illegals” working to wash and scrape the leftovers.

So when you hear from Lamar Smith, Congressman from Texax as he introduces a mandatory E-Verify bill in the House this week say that those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear, or from others who “just want people to obey the law” remember Jose, remember the reality of weak worker protections, uneven application of laws and regulations, and the racist assumptions of law enforcement agents and bosses that makes it just a bit more complicated and problematic for millions of workers.

-Jacob is an Organizer at Arise Chicago Worker Center

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From Progress Illinois

In Wisconsin, a Dane County Circuit Court judge has ruled against Republican lawmakers. The judge ruled they violated an open meetings law when they passed the controversial bill to take away collective bargaining rights for state workers. The bill passed without the 14 Democratic state Senators present because they had famously fled the state to prevent a vote weeks earlier.

This ruling effectively voids the bill, but the state Supreme Court may pick up the case.

SOURCES

Reposted from Progress Illinois

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