Opening Speech given by Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II,
Rally for a Good Jobs Nation
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
(remarks as prepared)
Today, I am happy to represent the faith community in affirming that all work matters and that all workers deserve a livable wage for the work that they do. We are here today to urge the President make federal contract jobs, good jobs – with livable wages, benefits, paid sick days, safe workplaces, reliable schedules, and the right to bargain collectively. We appreciate President Obama’s initial raise to $10.10 an hour when he bypassed Congress and acted on moral authority.
However, we stand with these striking government contract workers to declare that $10.10 is not enough. Our nation cannot boast of being the land of the free, while allowing companies to pay wages that enslave its citizens to debt, poverty and an inability to provide a decent living for themselves, their children and generations to come. The workers who we stand with today represent the hopes of current and prospective students; parents; children; spouses; and grandparents. They represent a lifeline of hope not only for themselves, but others who depend on them to assist their dreams, hopes and future possibilities.
I was deeply disturbed when we held a rally in front of Union Station last year to hear a grandmother declare that she wanted to retire, but could not live on what her anticipated retirement income would be. So, she keeps on working as she ages with no hope for retirement. It is not fair for someone to labor all of her life at a wage that keeps her working in poverty unto death. We are a better nation than that that!
I stand today as a follower of the Christian faith tradition. Jesus tells the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) in response to Peter’s question in Matthew 19:27: "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?" Peter wanted to know what reward would be given to those who give up everything to follow Jesus. In response, Jesus explains this truth about the kingdom of heaven. I cannot help but notice that Jesus uses an example of equitable pay to give a resonance of Spirit to provide a Kingdom reality to the fair treatment of workers.
These day laborers waited for someone to hire them. And, they were hired at different times during the day. Some of these workers started their day at 9:00 am and others throughout the day. One group was even hired with only one hour left to work. At the end of their workday those who were hired last were paid first and all of the workers were paid the same wage irrespective of the time of day that they started or how many hours they worked. Jesus called it a daily wage. We who share The Lord’s prayer frame it in Jesus’ context as “daily bread.”
This parable reminds us that all work that upraises the dignity of a human being and furthers the cause of our earthly stewardship to the world God created is worthy of livable wage. In other words, a living wage is what Jesus is seeking. Jesus knew that people working poverty jobs everyday and living in poverty could not buy bread, butter or milk cheaper than those of us with more money to spend. Jesus knew that a woman who works the same job and makes less than a man could not build a similar future. Jesus knew that all work should be valued when it affirms the dignity and worth of a human being and advances the positive possibilities of a society. And, workers are striking out of a conviction that they ought to be paid fairly for the work that they do. The fairness that I speak of today is not simply enough to make a living, but instead enough to build a life worth living – and a legacy to leave behind.
In God’s Kingdom there are no “big I’s and little You’s.” We are all precious in the good Lord’s sight. Work should offer us our daily bread – enough to live peaceably while peacefully living.
We, the members of the faith community join these workers today by strongly urging the President to seize the moral high ground and do for these striking workers what our country has done for now profitable corporations since 2008. We raised the corporations’ wage through bailouts and tax breaks. But now I say – I want my tax dollars to create good jobs – with livable wages, benefits, paid sick days, safe workplaces, reliable schedules, and the right to bargain collectively for the good of the whole.
Stand now with those who depend upon wages from these same corporations who we incentivized and bailed out – to do business with the federal government, they must create good jobs, not poverty jobs. Stand now for the mother who needs to feed her children – the father who needs to put a roof over his family’s heads.
I want to share with the workers who begin striking today. Be aware that you do not walk alone. People of faith are here today and will be with you in the days ahead. The power of faith will guide you in the days ahead. The love of faith will embrace you when you feel you stand alone. The guidance of faith will direct you when the way seems long with no end in sight. The presence of faith will comfort you in your moments of disappointment. Don’t you give up on the one who made you and guides you even now.
Because the Good Lord knows that $10.10 is not enough!!!