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Archive for the ‘Faith & Labor’ Category

By Lizzy Brady

Earlier this month on Thursday, September 5th, Rev. CJ Hawking, Fr. Larry Dowling, and Rev. Tim Yaeger linked arms in an act of civil disobedience, and raised their voices in solidarity with Walmart workers at a demonstration outside the Walmart in the River North neighborhood. The Arise Chicago team stood alongside Walmart workers as part of a larger demonstration across the United States. On the heels of the fast-food workers’ staged walkouts to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour, Walmart workers’ nationwide demanded better pay, improved working conditions, and reinforcement of the right for workers to organize without retaliation.

walmart action

With 1.3 million employers, Walmart is the largest employer in 25 states, and has raked in more than $30 billion just in the second quarter of this year. 2.2 million people worldwide are employed by Walmart, totaling 11,000 stores in 27 countries. The demonstrations are pushing for a commitment to a $25,000 salary, as well as demanding a reinstatement of Walmart employees recently fired after filing a complaint — a clear violation of US labor law protecting workers from retaliation.

I went to the Walmart Worker strike on my second day of interning with Arise, which turned out to be a beautifully accurate introduction to the work that we do. Although it’s been a few weeks since the Walmart Workers strike, the picture of Rev. CJ Hawking, Fr. Larry Dowling, and Tim Yaeger standing in solidarity with the Walmart workers is still so clear in my mind. These days, I’m often reminded of 1 Corinthians 12:26: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” What a challenging reminder not to treat the suffering of the exploited as an independent entity detached from ourselves, nor ignore the cries of the oppressed with ignorant explanations for the cause of poverty. May faith communities continue to shake the dust off our dry bones, and “loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, set the oppressed free and break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6). I’m inspired by the men and women I have met that are pursuing justice for the oppressed in this city, and I pray that our God will continue to guide our feet into the path of peace.

Lizzy Brady is an intern at Arise Chicago and a student at Wheaton College.

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by Linda Bloom

Reposted from the UMConnections blog

umns13 198 1 Connections United Methodists take heart in labor agreement

(From left) the Revs. Marti Scott, Chuck Dauhm, Michael Shanahan and C.J. Hawking line up (risking arrest) in support of Hyatt workers in Chicago. A web-only photo by Luis Juarez

They prayed at the picket line, listened to workers’ stories, sent delegations to meet with management and supported a boycott.

So when UNITE HERE, the union of hospitality workers in the United States and Canada, recently reached a tentative labor agreement with the Hyatt Hotels Corporation, United Methodists were pleased.

The Rev. Israel Alvaran, who helped organize denominational support in northern California, said he was inspired by workers willing to take risks and make sacrifices so a global corporation would hear their concerns. “This was a David and Goliath fight,” he declared.

The Rev. C.J. Hawking, a United Methodist pastor and executive director of Arise, Chicago, agreed the workers, “really put up a valiant fight.” Two other hotel chains, Starwood and Hilton,already had signed agreements with workers that “provide safe working conditions and limit outsourcing,” she said.

The agreement reached July 1 will go into effect upon the settlement and ratification of union contracts by Hyatt associates in San Francisco, Honolulu, Los Angeles, and Chicago, according to UNITE HERE. Key provisions include retroactive wage increases and a fair process mechanism for a union vote.

UNITE HERE will end its global boycott of Hyatt when the contracts are ratified. Hyatt agreed to a fair process for workers in some hotels immediately, but not in other hotels, said Ross Hyman, who was assigned by the AFL-CIO to work with religious supporters in Chicago. “In those hotels, the boycott will continue, even though the global boycott has ended,” he clarified.

Both the California-Nevada and Northern Illinois annual (regional) conferences of The United Methodist Church officially have supported the hotel workers. That’s in keeping with the denomination’s Social Principles and resolutions said John Hill, who oversees work on economic and environmental justice for the denomination’s Board of Church and Society.

Those principles are clear about rights of workers, including the need for a living wage and the right to bargain collectively, he pointed out. Whether they provide housekeeping services in hotels or harvest crops on farms, “we take our lead from the workers who are struggling to improve their own lives and conditions,” Hill said.

Chicago picket lines

In the Chicago area, about 7,000 Hyatt workers had been without a contract since Aug. 31, 2009. The economic boycott there targeted the Park Hyatt on the Magnificent Mile, Hyatt Regency on Wacker Drive and the Hyatt O’Hare.

The Rev. Teran Loeppke, a deacon in the Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference, wrote the legislation adopted in 2011 that created the conference’s Hyatt Boycott Monitoring and Organizing Committee and supported the worker-led boycott of 16 Hyatt properties in the United States.

“I think we were one of the pieces of the comprehensive effort that has led to this whole tentative agreement,” Loeppke said. “Anytime dedicated clergy and lay people get together to really focus in a concerted way…good things have the opportunity to happen.”

Because the Hyatt headquarters are in Chicago, having the conference representing United Methodists in the city honor the boycott made it “that much more significant,” Hyman noted.

“Methodists also played a role in trying to reach out to other organizations for them to honor the boycott,” he added. When religious scholars meeting in Chicago last fall moved the headquarters hotel further from the convention center, United Methodists helped organize a Sabbath walk to accompany Orthodox Jews “so that everyone would be walking together.”

Other actions included picketing and prayer, including a “flash prayer” event in the Hyatt Regency lobby. “We just really prayed and prayed, with complete earnestness, really valuing the collective prayer in the public square,” Hawking said. “Stating that God’s presence was there was very powerful for management to hear and the workers to hear as well.”

When religious delegations went to see Hyatt management, the workers often sent “thank you” messages as they waited, noted the Rev. Betty Jo (B.J.) Birkhahn-Rommelfanger, pastor of Incarnation United Methodist Church in Arlington Heights, Ill.

“Seeing that actually the church would be a presence for justice for them and come into their struggle meant so much to the people that I talked with,” she said.

Hawking and Birkhahn-Rommelfanger were among those able to get passes “to go to back of house” at the Hyatt hotel to interview workers during their lunch hour. Jewish groups led the effort to publish a clergy report, “Open the Gates of Justice,” on working conditions at Hyatt hotels.

Hawking remembers talking with one of the employees, a pastry chef and single mom. “She literally stood for 8 to 10 hours every day over her work table,” she said. “It was very powerful to be in the back of the house like that and to see a glimpse of what their lives were like.”

Support and solidarity in California

As in Chicago, United Methodists in the denomination’s California-Nevada Conference have focused on support and solidarity for Hyatt workers, Alvaran explained. A member of the Philippines Central Conference, he has helped organize interfaith support for workers in northern California since 2007.

In San Francisco, the union allowed them to bring clergy to organizing meetings “to provide that ministry of presence and assurance that all will be well, you don’t have to fear,” he said.

Alvaran believes the new tentative contract is a “huge” accomplishment, particularly in terms of a neutrality agreement that provides a “hands off” approach as workers decide how they want to organize. But, it doesn’t apply to every hotel in the area, such as the Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf, which is no longer owned by the Hyatt corporation. The California-Nevada Conference approved a resolution in endorsing a worker-led boycott of the Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf in 2009.

Before the 2013 annual conference meeting in June at the Sacramento Hyatt, Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr., discussed the denomination’s position on labor issues with both with union leaders and management.

“We took seriously our responsibility to respect our relationships with our neighbors,” Brown told United Methodist News Service. “We met with representatives of the labor movement that have concerns about working conditions for hotel workers and we met with the general manager and the human resources manager of the Hyatt property.”

Several factors influenced the conference’s decision to have its 2014 annual session at a unionized hotel, the Hyatt Burlingame. Brown — whose parents, now retired, were both union members — was particularly pleased the contract with that hotel includes protective language that allows cancellation without penalty in the event of a labor dispute and he urged other annual conferences to do the same.

Including what is known as a force majeure clause in their hotel contracts, allowing them to move to another hotel if a boycott or worker action occurs, is the best way for church groups to help hotel workers, Hyman said, “because of the enormous consumer power that they wield.”

Alvaran said that conferences could check the union’s website to see if hotels in a particular city are under a worker boycott.

*Linda Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe. Contact her at (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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This article was originally posted on the Huffington Post

By Amy B. Dean

Sometimes, as an activist, you look upon the world and think you will never be able to see the changes you seek in your own lifetime. It’s easy to despair, to succumb to the isolation and self-doubt that come from being a thoughtful person trying to change the status quo.

In those moments, I’ve learned to find renewal and hope not in myself, but in other organizers, in our shared values and experiences. Saul Alinsky wrote, “We must believe that it is the darkest before the dawn of a beautiful new world. We will see it when we believe it.” A shared belief in what is actually possible to achieve, despite what others may tell us: that is the organizer’s gift.

In one respect, this principle sounds self-evident. And yet, while our social movements are often full of talk about policy, tactics or messaging, values are regularly left to linger in the background. They become things that are left to theologians to debate, or we allow values to be a walled-off part of the political conversation.

As a result, conservatives are usually the ones who are able to claim the mantle of values and define what values-based politics in America should entail. Needless to say, their definitions of compassion, equality and freedom are different than those offered by progressives. The dominance of their worldview allows for a social order in which the middle class has grown ever more precarious and opportunities for the disenfranchised to better their lives have dwindled.

I think this, perhaps more than any other reason, is why interfaith organizing matters.

Every major faith — Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism — has a set of values grounded in the pursuit of justice and equity. This universalism is important. It creates the potential for far-reaching, welcoming movements that cut across boundaries of race, class, sect and nationality.

Working from a values-based framework means applying these principles of justice and equity not only when we think about society’s most downtrodden. It means integrating values into the most central questions of political life, including budgets and spending. For unless we articulate a clear vision of social justice before approaching policy, we end up only quibbling over the degree of social service cuts, not advancing a proactive, affirmative agenda.

Authentic Self-Interest and the Craft of Community Organizing

Yet celebrating universal values is not enough. A basic principle in organizing is authentic self-interest.

Community organizing is a craft with decades of history, going back through the innovations of pioneers such as Saul Alinsky and including the work that President Obama pursued at the start of his career. Community organizers have thought hard about how to mobilize people to create social change — in Alinsky’s words, how to bring the “power of organized people” to bear against “the power of organized money.” And community organizers have offered some profound insights about the role of values in politics.

When approaching potential allies, organizers ask, “Why do you care about this issue? Why does addressing it benefit you?” They are suspicious of those whose answers are too vague or impersonal — people who can talk about justice only in abstract terms.

To ask these questions is not to demand selfishness, but rather self-awareness. The truth that organizers have discovered through hard years of practice is that if you understand your own identity and your own faith — if you know where you come from and what truly matters to the communities closest to you — you can make a much bigger impact in the world. Moreover, particularity is not incompatible with universalism. Recognizing your own authentic self-interest allows you to appreciate and honor difference in a far more substantive manner.

A Reinvigorated Jewish Social Justice Agenda

My own grounding is in the Jewish community, and I have seen much there that gives hope for the revival of an interfaith social justice agenda.

In late April, I had the opportunity to attend the JOIN for Justice organizers’ summit in New York City. JOIN for Justice is a new group which formed from an important impulse. Starting in the 1990s, a collection of Jewish activists coming out of unions and other social movements noticed that when broad coalitions came together, there was not as strong of an organized Jewish presence as the tradition’s deep social justice values would warrant. Seeking to develop new generations of Jewish organizers as well as to expand the engagement of Jewish congregations in community organizing efforts (like the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), PICO, DART, and Gamaliel), Jewish organizations including JOI (the Jewish Organizing Initiative) and Bend the Arc (formerly Jewish Funds for Justice and Jewish Progressive Alliance) sought to create a training ground for Jewish leaders interested in community organizing.

JOIN for Justice’s inaugural summit was the culmination of two years of work to build a network that could have national reach. At the summit, participants attended workshops that ranged from traditional political panels such as “Voter Mobilization to Build Power,” to those that reflected a distinctly Jewish take on organizing, like, “Creative Ritual in Action” or “Raising Money with Chutzpah in Challenging Times.” Nearly 300 organizers gathered together, representing some 50 organizations from throughout the country. Sixty percent of them were under 35 years old.

JOIN for Justice is part of a new crop of reinvigorated Jewish social justice organizations. Groups like AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps and Just Congregations are thinking about how they can have greater impact in the world and how they can be part of a national movement for racial, economic and social justice. Some older organizations like American Jewish World Service and the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) are reinventing themselves as well. NCJW chief Nancy Kaufman explains, “There is a wonderful confluence happening of older Jewish organizations like NCJW feeling re-energized by the number of newer Jewish social justice organizations, and I think the younger women are very excited about it also.” Around the country, she says, so many isolated groups “have been toiling in the lonely vineyards and very much want to be a part of something” more cohesive.

The JOIN for Justice summit was an important step in that direction. What was exciting to me was that the organization is one of the first contemporary manifestations of Jewish social justice activism on a national scale. Within the Jewish community, there is tremendous pride among an older generation about social justice titans like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who served as an advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. However, a central challenge of the faith is not merely to honor the past, but to make our traditions relevant in a new time and a new context.

The young people I saw at JOIN for Justice are doing that by grounding themselves in authentic self-interest. They are taking inspiration from secular predecessors doing community organizing. Yet they view their work through a distinctly Jewish lens. They not only connect with a deep tradition of American Jewish organizing in the labor and Civil Rights movements; they see religious ritual and practice as a force essential for sustaining their work.

As much as the new generation of activists is focused outward, committed to making America live up to its promise of liberty and justice for all, they are attentive to the self, passionately articulating the religious values that inform their work. With this approach, they are providing a new definition of what it means to be Jewish in America.

On the broader political stage, I hope that their example will serve as a model of how progressives can organize with values — and that many more interfaith efforts in the same mold will follow. Because it is our authentic self-awareness that ultimately allows us to reach beyond ourselves and bring about lasting change that is rooted in integrity. We have to know who we are to believe in what we are doing.

Amy Dean is a fellow of The Century Foundation and principal of ABD Ventures, LLC, an organizational development consulting firm that works to develop new and innovative organizing strategies for social change organizations. Dean is co-author, with David Reynolds, of ‘A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement.’ Dean has worked for nearly two decades at the cross section of labor and community based organizations linking policy and research with action and advocacy. You can follow Amy on twitter @amybdean, or she can be reached via http://www.amybdean.com.

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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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