Wednesday, August 27, 2014

JHN Joins Action for Better Jobs

Reverend J. Herbert Nelson Joins Workers and Faith Leaders in Demanding Better Jobs for Low-Wage Workers

J. Herbert Nelson addresses the crowd of striking workers and
religious advocates. We live in a world of abundance!
Photo Credit: Good Jobs Nation
On Tuesday, July 29, 2014, The Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, II, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Director for Public Witness, joined with workers and other leaders in the faith community, including Presbyterian minister Michael Livingston of Interfaith Worker Justice and Reverend S├Ękinah 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 require federal contractors to bargain collectively with their employees, pay living wages and benefits, stop wage theft, and limit excessive 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 to 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.”
Nelson walks with partner clergy at the head of the march of
striking workers.

The action focused 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.

Workers' Children Join the Strike
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.”

President Obama signs "Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces
Executive Order"
Two days later, President Obama signed a new executive order (EO), the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order,” which requires companies bidding for federal contracts to disclose their recent compliance with labor and employment laws and instructs federal agencies to consider this compliance, or lack thereof, in the process of awarding federal contracts.  One in five U.S. workers is employed by a firm that receives at least one federal contract, so this will have strong and rippling effects throughout the labor market, not just for those workers directly employed through government contracts. 

As the President noted in his speech before the signing, taxpayer dollars should provide good jobs with decent wages and safe working conditions.

Of the President’s Executive Order, Rev. Nelson said, “the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness (OPW) is pleased that the President is addressing this issue. It is good for workers, for law-abiding employers, and for U.S. taxpayers. The OPW has been advocating for greater enforcement of existing labor law for some time and only two days ago, I risked arrest in order to move the President to take actions such as this one. I rejoice that the President is hearing the voice of Presbyterian public witness and other partners in the faith community.”