Bad news about how we treat hourly workers consumes our headlines daily. Half of fast food workers need public aid. Tipped workers in the US make $2.13 an hour as base pay and haven’t had a raise since 1991. The federal minimum wage has been below what’s needed to keep a family of three out of poverty since 1980. Today, half of all jobs pay less than $27,000 per year. Today, 26 million Americans want full-time work but cannot find it.
It is like workers are on the Jericho Road and waiting for a good Samaritan. Where is the church and where are church folks in the struggle to change the dynamics in our country? Can the church step forward in solidarity with workers? Can we church folks (worker and manager, clergy and laity) be a voice in this wilderness?
The AFL-CIO has developed a program called Common Sense Economics (CSE), looking at what has happened in recent years to the ordinary worker in this country. CSE strives for an economy where prosperity and wealth are shared. Currently 10% of the wealthiest own 70% of the wealth in this country. Is this the society God designed and wants?
I was blessed to be involved when the AFL-CIO rolled out their CSE strategy and to find it has Biblical roots that exemplify the Golden Rule that Jesus demands, roots that stand with the poor and offer relief as Jesus demands in the sheep and goat story, roots that hope to fulfill Mary’s song where the poor are fed.
Many of us in the Christian community have a song we learn early in our church life—“They’ll know we are Christians by our love…We will guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride, And they will know we are Christians by our love.” Guarding dignity means paying living wages so public aid is not needed. Guarding dignity means providing health insurance so workers can afford health care. Guarding dignity means giving workers a place at the table to negotiate benefits and working conditions — so wage theft is not a problem and workers are not fired for bringing issues to the table. May we remember that “Jesus’ entire ministry demonstrated his commitment to make sure all people were treated with dignity and respect.”
If your church or community would like to have a program on Common Sense Economics to see how it can help work for a more just society, there are folks at the NC Council of Churches, NC Justice Center and in the labor movement who would be glad to come talk to your group — a Sunday School Class, a forum, a dinner group, a study group — in your home or at your church. Contact Sandy Irving at email@example.com or 919-828-6501.
To be known by our love, we in the Christian Community must stand beside and with workers. May our Lenten journey give us “courage to stand up and say enough is enough and give thanks for that gift of hope!”