Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Senate Workers Get a Raise, Will Push for $15 and a Union

December 15, 2015- Senate workers won a new raise of $14.50 an hour on yesterday.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness along with other ecumenical/interfaith partners were instrumental in the struggle to increase wages for low wage government contract workers. The Office of Public Witness and other partners advocated for a $15.00 an hour increase. The Senate rules committee signed a new contract that raises wages to 14.50 per hour. 
Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II commented "We are thankful for the support of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) members who responded to action alerts; contacting their Senators; and advocating for government contract and other low wage workers on the local level." Nelson cited that "the struggle for economic justice on both Capitol Hill and local communities is not over, however the Senate vote on yesterday is a significant step in the right direction. The Church must continue its efforts to stand with the poor. This vote signals that our voice is heard when we are both compassionate and persistent in our efforts to impact social change. We are thankful to God through Jesus Christ that our prophetic voice was heard and workers can celebrate a significant coming of the Lord during this Advent/Christmas Season."

Op-Ed in The Hill "A Gift for Low Wage Capitol Workers"

"A Gift for Low Wage Capitol Workers" 
By Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II and Rev. Sèkinah Hamlin

December 10, 2015- As America’s lawmakers plan to take time off to enjoy the holidays with their families, we, along with the leaders of other national faith organizations, are committed to remain vigilant of the needs of those they leave behind in Washington, D.C. – the low-wage workers who clean their office buildings and cook their meals. 
These contract workers – who labor diligently inside the U.S. Capitol and Senate – will not get paid time-off to celebrate the holidays with their families.   Scores of these workers will be relying on food stamps to prepare their holiday meals and using Section 8 vouchers to avoid spending Christmas Eve on the streets.
Interestingly, on Dec. 6, our nation marked the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Ironically, a significant number of today’s federal contract workers find themselves having to fight to put an end to the financial bondage they are experiencing as a direct result of the low-wages they are receiving, along with the lack of benefits.
During the past year, we have accompanied these federal contract workers as they walked-off their jobs five times to strike for fair and just employment compensation and conditions. 
These fighters for “$15 & a Union” include women like Sontia Bailey, who begins each day working a full-time shift at the U.S. Capitol before making her way to her second job at a fast food restaurant.  Working 70 hours a week to pay the bills puts enormous stress on her body – she recently suffered a miscarriage.   To add insult to injury, Sonita and her fiancé could not  afford to take time to grieve the loss of their child as Sontia had to return to work two days later in order to try to remain current on her bills. 
With the holidays upon us, how should we respond to such suffering in our midst?
The scripture reading that leads us into the holiday season shines a light on the answer.   In Luke 3:7-18, John the Baptist, foretelling Christ’s birth, urges the powerful and privileged to repent from exploiting the people.   The crowd asks him “What then should we do,” how shall we repair and rectify this exploitation?  John replies, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3: 10-12)
John’s message is clear:  We must resist greed and share what we have with those who go without the basic necessities of life. 
Regardless of the holiday messages that flow from Madison Avenue, the most authentic acts of this season involve doing justice and sharing with those in need.  
Acts that are rooted in justice and grounded in sharing serve as good news for impoverished federal contract workers, particularly as they work amid the affluence of wealthy and powerful U.S. senators, and are employed by the Compass Group, a multi-billion dollar multi-national corporation.   
This holiday season we are sending a letter to the CEO of Compass Group asking him to give Sontia and her co-workers the gift of justice.  We are asking that Sontia and all federal contract employees be given an hourly wage of $15 along with fair working conditions and the right to engage in collective bargaining.  As faith leaders, we offer ourselves to serve as mediators who can bring workers and management together to achieve labor peace and fairness.
We know that a majority of the workers have signed cards indicating that they want to form a union and address workplace grievances without resorting to strikes.   Additionally, we know that company executives and many lawmakers share the desire for workplace harmony at the U.S. Capitol. 
By working together, we can bear witness to the true spirit of the holiday season. 
Read Original Op ED HERE

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Faith Leaders Continue to Support Federal Contract Workers in the Struggle for Living Wages and Decent Benefits

The Escalating "Fight for Fifteen" 

Washington, D.C.- On Tuesday December 8th, the Reverend J Herbert Nelson, Director of the Office of Public Witness, joined federal contract workers once again in their struggle for living wages and the right to unionize. Workers from the United States Capitol, Pentagon and other federal landmarks walked off of their jobs to fight poverty pay in an action that escalated their campaign and increased pressure on decision makers. Workers were in the holiday spirit, complete with Santa hats and Grinch costumes, and once again appealed to decision makers to make federal jobs good jobs with living wages and decent benefits.

Reverend Nelson was joined by The Reverend Sekinah Hamlin, Reverend Aundreia Alexander, and Reverend Leslie Copland Tune who led the striking Senate cafeteria workers in prayer as they marched into the Dirksen Senate cafeteria. Once in the cafeteria, the faith leaders presented a letter to the Restaurant Associates management. In this letter, leaders of faith offered to bridge the gap between management and workers, and to act as a third party to count the signed union pledges. The workers and faith leaders then marched to Senator Ted Cruz’s office in order to present him with a Golden Grinch Award for not following through with action on worker’s rights. Senator Cruz has spoken about the need for workers to earn a livable wage, but has not kept his word.

This faith action is a part of an ongoing struggle in the Fight for Fifteen. This past month, Senate staffers have joined in the Fight for Fifteen by participating in the weekly brown bag boycott in support of the Senate cafeteria workers. Faith leaders in Washington D.C. will sustain their support until workers have justice. 

Below is a copy of the letter the faith leaders presented to Restaurant Associates Management:

Richard John Cousins
CEO, Compass Group
Compass House
Guildford Street
Surrey KT16 9BQ
United Kingdom

Dear Mr. Cousins:

As faith leaders, we believe that there is inherit dignity in work and that workers deserve a seat at the banquet table so they can share in the fruits of their labor.
We have listened to the heart-breaking stories of U.S. Capitol and Senate contract workers – employed by your company – who earn so little that they are forced to sleep on the streets and use food stamps to feed their families. We have witnessed courageous workers willing to walk off their jobs on strike to call for justice and freedom at work. We have prayed with workers and their families so they might be strong in the face of threats and retaliation.

We understand why they are raising their voices to win living wages and a seat at the negotiating table – they seek dignity.
That is why we write to urge you to invite your low-wage workers to the table.
In all of our traditions, the “table” is a sacred symbol – a place where people gather in fellowship, where reconciliation happens, and where abundance is shared. It is a place where all can enjoy dignity.

Mr. Cousins, set a place at the table for your workers. Allow your workers the opportunity to self-organize and speak with one voice. Remove all obstacles in their way by protecting their freedom to associate and by recognizing their union based on a majority of membership cards. By doing so, you can lead by example and send a message to other CEOs – workers should not have to go on strike to have their voices heard.

We stand ready to support you and your workers end this labor dispute and achieve mutual reconciliation. We are available to help monitor a “free and fair organizing” process by mediating a resolution to the strikes and certifying the results of the card count.
The U.S. Capitol is a symbol of inclusion where everyone can have their voices heard. We hope you will to do everything possible to make this symbol real for America’s low-wage workers.


National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
National Council of Churches
Presbyterian Church (USA)
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
Ecumenical Poverty Initiative

Office of Public Witness Signs on to Letter Urging Congress to Make the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit Permanent

December 7, 2015

Dear Senator,

The improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) that were enacted in 2009 but are scheduled to expire after 2017 are extremely important to millions of working families across the country. The undersigned organizations strongly urge Congress to make them permanent in any tax extenders bill before Congress adjourns.

Media reports indicate that negotiations are underway to extend the business tax breaks that expired earlier this year, and we urge Congress to make the EITC and CTC improvements permanent now, as part of any agreement on these extenders. Not doing so would put these improvements at considerable risk in 2017; there are too many uncertainties in 2017 to count on securing permanent extension of these critical provisions then.

The EITC and CTC are two of the strongest tools we have to help working families make ends meet, escape poverty, and become self-sufficient. Roughly 50 million Americans, including 25 million children, will lose some or all of their tax credits if the EITC and CTC improvements expire. More than 16 million people, including 8 million children, will be pushed into, or deeper into, poverty.

Low-income families cannot afford to lose this critical help to support themselves through work. Congress has a critical opportunity now to protect these highly effective provisions. Should Congress wait until close to their expiration, these provisions may, in fact, expire. Alternatively, securing their extension at the 11th hour as they are about to die in late 2017 could come at a very high price — costly, regressive tax cuts or other harmful policy changes. Waiting could cause the EITC and CTC improvements to essentially be held hostage for other, deleterious policy changes. No other issue affecting so many struggling working families and their children is before Congress in the rest of this session. We urge you to do everything you can to make these vital provisions permanent this year. Thank you for considering our request.


9to5, National Association of Working Women
Adorers of the Blood of Christ, U.S. Region
African American Health Alliance
Afterschool Alliance
AIDS United
Alliance for a Just Society
Alliance for Strong Families and Communities
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
Americans for Democratic Action (ADA)
Americans for Tax Fairness
Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Benedictine Coalition for Responsible Investment
Benedictine Health System
Bread for the World
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good
Center for Community Change Action
Center for Economic Progress
Center for Global Policy Solutions
Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
Center for Public Justice
Center for Rural Strategies
Center for the Study of Social Policy
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Child and Family Policy Center
Child Care Aware® of America
Child Welfare League of America
Children's Defense Fund
Children's Health Watch
Children's Leadership Council
Citizens for Tax Justice
Coalition on Human Needs
Common Sense Kids Action
Community Action Partnership
Concerned Black Men National
Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED)
Corporation for Supportive Housing
Covenant House International
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
Early Care and Education Consortium
Ecumenical Poverty Initiative
Epilepsy Foundation
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Every Child Matters Education Fund
Feeding America
First Focus Campaign for Children
Food Research & Action Center (FRAC)
Foster Family-based Treatment Association
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Generations United
Global Justice Institute
Goodwill Industries International
Interfaith Worker Justice
Islamic Relief USA
Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, AFL-CIO (LCLAA)
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
League of Women Voters of the United States
Lutheran Services in America
Main Street Alliance
Medical Mission Sisters
Metropolitan Community Churches
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc.
National Alliance of Children’s Trust & Prevention Funds
National Alliance to End Homelessness
National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE)
National Association for Hispanic Elderly
National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders
National Association for State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD)
National Association of County Human Services Administrators
National Association of Evangelicals
National Association of Social Workers (NASW)
National Center for Law and Economic Justice
National Center on Adoption and Permanency
National Child Support Enforcement Association
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Coalition for the Homeless
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council on Independent Living (NCIL)
National Disability Institute
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Education Association
National Employment Law Project
National Foster Parent Association
National Health Care for the Homeless Council
National Immigration Law Center
National Latino Evangelical Coalition
National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund
National Low Income Housing Coalition
National Military Family Association
National Network to End Domestic Violence
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
National Urban League
National WIC Association
National Women’s Law Center
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Partnership for America's Children
People Demanding Action
PICO National Network
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)
Progressive Congress
Public Advocacy for Kids
Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities Coalition
Share Our Strength
Single Stop
Sisters of Charity Federation
Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Congregational Leadership
Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Sisters of Mercy, Institute Justice Team
The Arc of the United States
The Jewish Federations of North America
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
The Office of Social Justice, the Christian Reformed Church in North America
The Salvation Army National Headquarters
The United Methodist Church - General Board of Church and Society
Union for Reform Judaism
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
United Way Worldwide
Voices for Progress
Women's institute for a Secure retirement (WISER)
Young Invincibles

Office of Public Witness Signs on to Letter Regarding Human Rights Violations by the Israeli Military and the Leahy Law

Instances of probable gross violations of human rights by Israeli military and security forces presented to  U.S. Department of State

December 8, 2015

Washington, DC

Concerned about specific, well-documented instances of probable gross violations of human rights by Israeli military and security forces, eleven churches and faith-based organizations discussed several case summaries at a meeting today with the U.S. Department of State.  Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign military assistance.
The groups said that they were seeking accountability for the observance of human rights in the use of U.S. military assistance as outlined in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 as amended and several annual Defense Department appropriations acts.  The provisions in these laws are often referred to as the “Leahy Laws” or “Leahy amendments” and, in the case of the Foreign Assistance Act, states “No assistance shall be furnished under this Act or the Arms Export Control Act to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” 

The organizations said that, with the information provided, the Department of State should designate the military units involved as ineligible for foreign assistance.

The groups noted that the cases presented at the meeting are part of a comprehensive project to seek accountability for documented human rights violations by Israeli forces and that further cases will be submitted.

In the context of the documentation they provided the Department of State, the groups also affirmed that they stand unequivocally opposed to all human rights violations by any actor -- state or non-state --  as well as any group or individual that is a party to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The organizations signing a letter accompanying the documents addressed to Mr. Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and Ambassador Anne W. Patterson, Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, were American Friends Service Committee; Conference of Major Superiors of Men; Friends Committee on National Legislation; Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ; Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns; Mennonite Central Committee U.S.; Pax Christi International; Pax Christi USA; Presbyterian Church (USA); United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries; and United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society. 

Rev. Susan P. Wilder
Faith Forum on Middle East Policy
(703) 598-2503

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Call Your Senators in Support of Sentencing Reform!

The time is Now to Reform Our Criminal Justice System!
Our beliefs direct us to protect the dignity and well-being of everyone impacted by the criminal justice system. That commitment extends to people who are victimized by crime, as well as to those who commit offenses. Current federal law demands harsh punishment for even low-level drug offenses. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act seeks to restore proportionality and fairness to federal sentencing and aid in rehabilitation for people in prison. Tell your senators to support this bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation. 

Call both of your Senators by calling 202-224-3121 and ask for their office. 
Here is a sample script of what you could say:

"Hi, my name is __________ and, as a Presbyterian, I urge Senator (their name) to support the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act because our criminal justice system badly needs reform and this is an important step in that direction."

Then, call 3 other folks (don't just email them - calls work better!) and urge them to make this same call. This is how movements are built!

This legislation is sponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) and a bipartisan group of 25 other Senators. This is a bill that will help reduce extremely long sentences for those awaiting sentencing as well as some of those already incarcerated. This bill will lessen the number of those who are incarcerated in the federal prison population, which has exploded since 1980. The increase in the number of incarcerated individuals is largely due to mandatory minimum penalties, which exacerbate racial disparities and perpetuate dangerous prison overcrowding. Senate Bill 2123 is an important step toward fixing the federal prison crisis.

As Christians, we should prioritize forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation in our judicial system policies. In 1988, the 200th General Assembly weighed in, saying, “individual Presbyterians and the entities of the General Assembly should . . . advocate a social order where compassion and justice characterize efforts toward those in the criminal justice system.”

J. Herbert Nelson Responds to Shootings In California and Georgia

“Tell Congress not to go home for Christmas until Common Sense Gun Legislation is passed.”
…but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
Thessalonians 5:21-22 (NRSV)
I am saddened to issue another statement on gun deaths in the United States. My prayers are extended to the families impacted by the Savannah, Georgia and San Bernardino, California mass shootings on yesterday. In Savannah one person was left dead and four injured. Fourteen lives were taken in San Bernardino. 

While law enforcement investigates the senseless deaths, our nation remains trapped in a discussion over access to guns. Today, I am sure that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is searching for the words to spin the reality of this ongoing list of national tragedies. However, there is no adequate spin to comfort those who were told yesterday and everyday in the United States that their loved one was killed by gun violence.

While we attempt to cope with our fears, we arm ourselves with more guns, add locks, to our doors, place cameras and alarms in our homes, and convince ourselves that these devices are enough to keep us safe. Our reality is that none of us are safe. We are all trapped in the malaise of news reports that remind us that we live in an out-of-control gun culture. The biblical name for our obsession with guns is called “idolatry.” Interestingly, the guns we buy to protect ourselves are the objects used to take 30,000 or more lives per year in the United States since 1979.
Once again, I plead with you to assist the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and other faith groups to free our nation from the scourge of gun violence. Call your Congressional Office today and demand that they not go home for Christmas until Common Sense Gun Legislation is passed (1-866-961-4293- Congressional Switchboard).  Let them know that your vote for their reelection will be highly based on how they push to establish Common Sense Gun Legislation in the United States.
Common Sense Gun Legislation will have the following measures outlined below.Demand that they pass Common Sense Gun Legislation before leaving Washington, DC for the holidays;

1. Universal Background Checks for the Purchase of All Guns

2. The reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.
3. The end to all straw purchases of guns. (no one should buy a gun for someone who cannot legally buy a gun for themselves)
4. Closing the gun show loophole
5. Making the trafficking of guns a federal crime (currently gun trafficking carries the same sentence as trafficking poultry)
Commit to vote and contribute only to those elected officials (locally and nationally) who are willing to vote for significant Common Sense gun laws
Our nation is in a crisis! Each of us can make a difference. Our lives depend on it.