Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Federal Jobs Lead the Marketplace

Reverend J. Herbert Nelson Joins Workers and Faith Leaders in Demanding Better Jobs for Federal Workers

Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages. 
-- Jeremiah 22:13

WASHINGTON -- The Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Director for Public Witness, this morning joined with workers and other leaders in the faith community, including Presbyterian minister Reverend Michael Livingston of Interfaith Worker Justice and Reverend Sรจkinah Hamlin of the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative (formerly NCC Poverty Initiative), in an action of nonviolent civil disobedience to urge President Obama to improve jobs for millions of workers. Together, workers and faith leaders asked the President to sign a Good Jobs Executive Order that will ensure that the federal government only does business with companies that pay a living wage and provide good benefits, follow wage, hour, and safety laws, allow workers to bargain collectively, and limit overspending on CEO pay.

Of his commitment to get arrested as part of the nonviolent action, Rev. Nelson said, “In the church, we believe in the inherent dignity of work and that God has called each of us to a vocation. Workers have a right to be compensated for their work with a fair wage that provides a living. One of the best ways improve jobs is to give workers the leverage to organize for better pay, working conditions, and benefits. We have allowed greed to perpetuate a class of working poor in this country, even though there is easily enough for everyone to have what we each need. Worker pay has stagnated while productivity and wealth have skyrocketed. This is our shared failure and it is a sin.”

Today’s action focuses on our shared conviction that God has provided enough for everyone. Rev. Nelson and other faith leaders, together with workers, surrounded a common table with shared bread for all. Clergy and workers then shared the bread among the crowd. Nelson concluded, “We believe God has provided enough, and workers’ wages and compensation should reflect that reality. We need executive action from the White House that will set a federal precedent in the marketplace to strengthen jobs, workers, and their families.  A job should keep you out of poverty, not trap you in it.”

This action follows up on the interreligious community’s successful campaign work with Good Jobs Nation that urged the President to sign an executive order requiring a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour for workers under new federal contracts. In February 2014, President Obama signed the $10.10 executive order, which is a good start to restoring the quality of jobs in the U.S., but it is only enough to bring a family of four just above the poverty line. Workers need living wages to support their families and the leverage to bargain collectively for fair pay and working conditions. With the stroke of a pen, the President can ensure that all federal contract workers receive fair and just compensation.

Of the action, the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson said, “In our capitalist society, payday is always a good day. There is a sense of pride in earning a living and having the means to build a better life. For those of us who take a paycheck for granted, let us be reminded and in solidarity with those persons who, after receiving their paychecks, still cannot meet their basic needs, including food, housing, health and child care, much less a family outing for dinner or a Friday-night movie. Let us not forget the father or mother in despair, because there is never enough to make ends meet, even after working multiple jobs or overtime.”


More information will be made available through the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness blog and Facebook page in the hours and weeks ahead.

The Reverend J. Herbert Nelson is the Director for Public Witness at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Urgent Gaza Appeal: For Lasting Peace in Israel-Palestine, We Must Address the Root Causes of Violence

As the ground assault in Gaza continues, The Presbyerian Church (U.S.A.) joins ecumenical and interfaith partners calling for an immediate ceasefire to all violence. In his recent statement regarding the violence in Gaza and Israel, PC (USA) Stated Clerk, Grayde Parsons, writes, "We call upon all parties involved to stop the violence and agree to an immediate cease-fire, under which the borders of Gaza can be opened to humanitarian aid and desperately needed medical assistance for the sick and wounded." 

The PC(USA) stands beside both Israelis and Palestinians working for a non-violent solution to end the conflict. We oppose violence in all of its forms. It must be made clear that in Gaza, where 1.8 million people live under complete blockade in a 140-square-mile area, with borders controlled by Israel and Egypt, civilians are often in harm's way from Israeli fire, regardless of the intended target. At the same time, we condemn rockets from Gaza launched indiscriminately into southern Israel. These hostile actions do not contribute to the possibility of peace

While an immediate end to all violence remains a top priority, we are aware that such an action will not bring peace. All aspects of Israeli's illegal military occupation--including the  blockade on Gaza and land confiscation in the West Bank--will need to end, in order for a just and secure future to result. We must recognize that U.S. diplomatic and financial support enable the occupation.  The U.S. provides over $3 billion per year in military aid to Israel. The 219th General Assembly (2010) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) "[expressed] its support for the U.S. government policy of carefully vettting the funds distributed to foreign countries in ways that ensure peaceful development and are consistent with international law, human rights, and U.S. foreign policy, namely:

 a. the US Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 which prohibits giving assistance to the government of any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations;

 b. the U.S. Arms Export Control Act of 1976 which prohibits using U.S. weapons against civilians and civilian infrastructure, and

c. the U.S. foreign policy insofar as it pertains to recommendations for steps toward peace, in this instance, between Israelis and Palestinians."

The peoples of Gaza and Israel urgenty need our support. We offer this prayer for peace in Gaza and Israel, and invite you to use it in worship:

A Prayer for Peace in Gaza:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”  (Romans 8.26)

God of all people and all places:

We come before you with sighs too deep for words. Each day brings news of more death and destruction for the people of Gaza and Israel.  We grieve along with the families of the 697 Gazans killed, 170 of them children, and with the families of the 37 Israelis killed. Terror grips your children. Even hospitals and schools have been turned into war zones. We cry out for an end to all violence and for the systems and structures contributing to oppression.

God who makes all things whole:

Hold tight all those who mourn. Be with the mothers and fathers who will never see their child’s face light up with laughter. Be with your children, who are lulled to bed not by the soothing voice of their parents, but by sounds of sirens signaling impending destruction.

God who makes everything new:

Equip us to be instruments of your peace.  We are heartbroken by all of the death and destruction, but with the Psalmists we proclaim, “weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” In the midst of such despair and tragedy you remain with those who suffer. Stir within us your vision for reconciliation and peace. Turn us away from complacency and cynicism and toward righteousness and justice. You call your people to seek justice and to love our enemies. In our words and deeds let us be witnesses to your unending love for all of God's people. 

In the name of the One who reconciles all nations and people to himself, we pray.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Urge Your Representatives to Pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act

Many U.S. workers have come to rely on and expect an annual wage increase from their employers. Indeed, the practice of annual cost of living increases and raises came into standard practice in the heyday of labor unions when the collective bargaining power of workers ensured that the increased productivity of the company was shared with all its employees, not just those at the top.  And yet, today marks the fifth anniversary since the last time the United States government raised the minimum wage. For tipped workers, the wait has been even longer, as the tipped worker minimum wage has stagnated at $2.13 per hour since 1991.

Click here to write to your Members of Congress in support of a raise for low-wage workers.

Low-wage workers have gone five long years without a raise, even while there have been positive signs of economic growth -- GDP has surpassed pre-recession levels and the unemployment rate has reached the lowest level since before the recession. But while the economy is improving, low-wage workers still feel like we’re in a recession. As the economy has improved, better-paying jobs have been replaced by lower-wage jobs, meaning that highly qualified workers are taking jobs out of their field and below their skills and/or education levels. The U.S. labor force participation rate is at its lowest since 1978 (meaning that the unemployment rate is going down, in part, because workers are despairing, giving up their job searches, and leaving the labor market), the median income is at its lowest since 1998, and income and wealth inequality are growing. All of these problems are economic drags on the economy.

 Living wages that allow workers to support themselves and their families are crucial to closing the widening gaps in our economy, and a minimum wage above poverty level for a family is a great place to start. It is time for Congress to lift minimum and low-wage workers out of poverty by raising the minimum wage above a poverty wage. A job should keep you out of poverty, not trap you in it.

Currently, the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. The Fair Minimum Wage Act (H.R. 1010/H.S. 1737) will raise of the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and will lift a family of four just above the federal poverty measure. While this increase still is not high enough to ensure a living wage, it is an important step in the right direction. The bill also raises the minimum wage for tipped workers and indexes the minimum wage for inflation; ensuring low-wage workers too will come to receive the same annual cost of living increase as so many others in the economy. A recent study cited by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) shows that had the minimum wage kept pace with economic productivity, it would now be about $22 per hour. This is one reason income inequality has been growing so precipitously and it shows how much more work we have to do in demanding justice for the worker. 

Write to your member of Congress and call for a minimum wage increase: HERE

The Department of Labor estimates that a total of 28 million workers would benefit if the minimum wage were raised to $10.10. In earning higher wages, 3.8 million people would earn enough that they would no longer need to rely on SNAP (food stamps) assistance, saving the federal government over $500 million over the fiscal year. Between 14-17 million children would benefit from the raise. This is more than a question of justice for the worker, though it is that. A just minimum wage is about ensuring an economy that provides good jobs for working people, lifts families out of poverty, and pays workers a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.

Write to your Members of Congress today! 

Image via Department of Labor

In 2006, the PC(USA)’s 217th General Assembly called on Congress to pass “legislation to increase the minimum wage… [to] at least reflect the increase in the cost of living since the last minimum wage increase in 1997, with the goal of a wage level sufficient to lift full-time workers out of poverty.” (Minutes, 2006, pp. 894-895)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Call on Political Leaders to Take a Lead in the United Nations Climate Negotiations

 We are called to be good stewards of the Earth and care for all of God’s creation. Communities of faith are coming together to call on political leaders to address issues of climate change. Join your voice with others as we call on political leaders in the United States to take a lead role in helping to craft a moral global framework for the UN climate negotiations that will take place in Paris 2015.
 Click here to sign the
Faith Climate Petition.
As people of faith, we care for all of God’s creation with a special concern for vulnerable populations. Presbyterians have acknowledged the burden of climate change and environmental injustice placed on the backs of the poor and oppressed. The 218th General Assembly presented a policy recommendation on climate change that emphasized a commitment to stand with ‘the least of these.’ The 219th General Assembly also approved an overture that affirmed “concern for God’s creation is, for every Christian, an essential way of living faithfully.”

U.S. policymakers need to take a lead role during the United Nations climate treaty negotiations. Reducing carbon emissions is vital to preventing devastating  impacts of climate change and to providing meaningful support for vulnerable communities. With the UN Climate Summit taking place in September in New York, now is the time to let both President Obama and Congress know that we need a strong treaty that requires all nations to take steps to control greenhouse gas emissions. 

Click here to sign the Faith Climate Petition.

We too can lead by example in taking action to address climate change. We are joining with ecumenical partners to collect individual pledges for action as a way to demonstrate our commitment to address climate change to our political leaders. Pledges for action can range from changing a light bulb to installing solar panels on your church roof, from hosting a climate vigil to preaching a sermon. Pledges for action will be highlighted during several faith events in New York in September.                     

 Click here to pledge to take action.

Together, let us respond to the challenge of climate change with compassion; standing in solidarity with our neighbors living in or near poverty who are most severely affected by the changing climate, and striving to preserve God’s “good” Creation.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Response to Criticism of J. Herbert Nelson's Hobby Lobby Statement

The PC(USA) Office of Public Witness (OPW) is encouraged by the diverse dialogue that is occurring in response to the Reverend J. Herbert Nelson’s statement with respect to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling. The OPW gives thanks for the words of support as well as the expressions of disagreement.  It is through dialogue and engagement that we may begin to break down the walls of ideology and see Christ in and through each other.

Much of the criticism of Rev. Nelson’s statement has been to point out his lack of specificity as to the particular contraceptives challenged in the Hobby Lobby case. Access to reproductive health care is an essential human right affirmed by Presbyterian General Assemblies, many of which have reaffirmed the historic Presbyterian commitment to accessible, comprehensive health care that should be equal, accessible, affordable, and high quality for all persons. (214th General Assembly, Minutes, 2002, p.634)

But more than a ruling related to available contraception, Rev. Nelson and the Office of Public Witness wished to express in his statement a concern about religious liberty. The Hobby Lobby decision establishes a precedent that sets the conscience of employers over and above the conscience of workers. Further, the decision grants first amendment liberties to for-profit corporations, which, no matter how closely they are held, are not people.  Allowing corporations, whose primary function is profit, the freedom to impose religious values on employees is fundamentally un-American and contrary to the values upon which this nation was founded.

As always, the Office of Public Witness represents the actions approved by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly and its predecessor bodies, which have affirmed that God Alone is Lord of Conscience and that individuals must make decisions in personal and public life that are consistent with their own values, without seeking to coerce others. National policy that allows employers and the owners of corporations to coerce employees with respect to their moral decisions undermines our churches and the nation.

The Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, is Director for Public Witness in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC.