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 As the economy has improved, better-paying jobs have been replaced by lower-wage jobs, meaning that highly qualified workers are taking jobs out of their field and below their skills and/or education levels.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.

World Council of Churches Statement on Economic Measures and Christian Responsibility toward Israel and Palestine

Our hearts are heavy. Too many people, both Israeli and Palestinian, have died already in this latest eruption of violence. In recent weeks, the level of tension and violence in Israel and Palestine has again reached frightening proportions. We bear witness to the senseless deaths of young people and the suffering visited on Israeli and Palestinian families. On the 1 July 2014, the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary expressed deep sorrow over the suffering and loss of life in the region. He affirmed that “collective retribution is not justice, nor will it lead to peace”. Unfortunately and sadly, we are still witnessing demolition of Palestinian homes, acts of revenge and collective punishment measures by the Israeli army against Palestinians, dangerous threats of increased Israeli military attacks against Palestinians in Gaza, and rocket attacks from Gaza. The current violence comes with the failure of the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the loss of prospects for a political solution.

Following the many calls issued by Palestinian Christians - most directly and succinctly in “A Moment of Truth,” the Kairos Palestine document issued in December 2009 – churches around the world are deeply concerned by these recent, highly destructive developments. It is the call of the churches to seek for Jerusalem “the things that make for peace” (Luke 19.42). Seeking peace for both Palestine and Israel is a longstanding commitment of member churches of the WCC.

As we face the possibility of yet another escalation in violence, we are called to consider again what actions churches around the world may take to help reduce the violence and promote peace for both peoples. As the WCC Central Committee noted in 2005, several churches have undertaken “initiatives to become better stewards of justice in economic affairs which link them to on-going violations of international law in occupied territory.” Initiatives that manifest solidarity with those who are oppressed are clearly the kind of actions which should govern the lives of people in covenant with God. In the present context of growing violence, such economic measures offer hope for promoting peace. In the spirit of promoting healthy Jewish-Christian relations in which we speak honestly and forthrightly with one another, we affirm the Central Committee’s statement of 1992 that “criticism of the policies of the Israeli government is not in itself anti-Jewish” any more than criticism of Palestinian Authority policies is anti-Palestinian;

We note the actions taken recently by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to divest from corporations that profit from Israel’s illegal military occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The United Methodist Church has also sold the shares of a corporation that provided equipment for prisons in the West Bank. These decisions were taken after long and careful deliberations which took into account all factors and perspectives. We also note actions by churches which work closely with their national governments so that goods produced in all Israeli settlements be labelled as manufactured in occupied Palestinian territories. These efforts are bearing fruit especially within the European Union. We also note the actions of those member churches that have voted to boycott goods produced in the Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian lands. As we said in 2005, these actions are “commendable in both method and manner,” using “criteria rooted in faith.” The purpose of these actions is to bring a just peace which will benefit both Palestine and Israel, peace that will save lives of Israelis and Palestinians and their families from grief.
We have been called by Palestinian Christians to stand with them in this moment of deep pain. In faith, hope, and love, we are called to join creative peaceful resistance to illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine. While we seek peace with justice for all persons and communities affected by this conflict, we also acknowledge the profound imbalance of power in Israel’s favour. We are confident that might will never make right, and with Martin Luther King Jr. affirm that the “moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice”.

We refuse to stand by silently and let baseless incitement and religiously-sanctioned extremism take even one more Israeli or Palestinian life. In this particular situation, we are convinced that targeted economic measures are an important nonviolent strategy for promoting peace and abating violence. We are called to take action in support of peaceful solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Economic pressure, appropriately and openly applied, is one such means of action. However, recognizing that different churches have complex relationships with Israel and Palestine, the WCC Central Committee acknowledges that the outworking of this statement will be different for individual churches in their own contexts.
In addition to the important policy approaches outlined in the 2005 minute, which we reiterate today, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland from 2-8 July, 2014 therefore:
  1. Reminds churches with investment funds that they have an opportunity to use those funds responsibly in support of peace with justice for both Israelis and Palestinians.
  2. Requests the wide ecumenical family to accompany individuals and churches singled out for criticism because they seek to provide prophetic leadership to end the occupation of Palestine and to build a just peace;
  3. Encourages its member churches to make investments that also help maintain a vibrant Palestinian Christian presence and witness in Israel and Palestine;
  4. Encourages its member churches to engage in dialogue with Palestinian churches, civil society actors, and Jewish partners. Rather than reacting to the political controversies around economic measures, churches should thoughtfully and prayerfully consider how they might respond from the foundation of their faith;
  5. Stands in solidarity with all who are working for peace with justice in Palestine and Israel.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Help Unaccompanied Children and Prevent Cuts to Refugee Services

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” Heb. 13:2

In spite of recent reports that there is no hope for comprehensive immigration reform in our Congress, there is still a chance to take action to protect the basic needs of unaccompanied children crossing the border. Many of these children are fleeing increasing violence, poverty, and hunger as they come to the United States with hopes of a better future.

 The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) provides services to resettle refugees, asylees, Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa recipients who assisted in U.S. Efforts, Cuban and Haitian entrants, victims of human trafficking, and survivors of torture. The ORR is also responsible for providing services to unaccompanied children from Central America. The office is in desperate need of substantially increased funding in order to meet the needs of unaccompanied children, without having to decrease services to refugees and other asylees under ORR’s care. The Administration has requested a $3.7 billion Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill.  In the bill, ORR will receive $1.83 billion for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. In addition, ORR will need at least $3.167 billion in FY 2015 to continue to adequately provide refugee services.

Click here to write to your Member of Congress in support of these emergency funds.

The ORR is a crucial instrument in our call to love the stranger among us. Without the additional funding for FY 2014, they have announced plans to reprogram $94 million from refugee services to serve the increasing numbers of unaccompanied children. Both of these populations deserve to be served and not at the expense of each other. Refugee services are already inadequately funded and further cuts would create detrimental consequences for refugees and the communities that welcome them.

 The action of the PC(USA) 220th General Assembly (2012) expressed our scriptural call to provide hospitality to strangers, to advocate for justice for immigrants regardless of status,  and to advocate actively for legislation that provides hope for young immigrants. Taking action to increase ORR’s funding is a chance to embody the ideals grounded in the love of Jesus Christ to welcome the traveler, and to respect the basic rights of all people, especially the needs of unaccompanied children, refugees, and asylees.

Click here to take action by reaching out to all members of Congress about this crucial issue.

The Stated Clerk, Rev. Gradye Parsons, released this statement on the crisis of unaccompanied minors along the U.S.-Mexico border.