United Methodists rally for workers’ rights
by Joey Butler
The cable TV series “30 Days” challenges people to spend a month “walking in someone else’s shoes.” In the premiere episode, host Morgan Spurlock and his girlfriend spent a month living on minimum wage. They discovered that their earnings were barely enough to cover essentials, and their budget was devastated when each of them had to go to the emergency room during the month, incurring a $1,217 bill.
|David Dortch (left) and Kyle Kordsmeier at a May 8 living wage rally in Memphis, Tenn.|
“You start to see the stress and strain; we bickered about silly things,” Spurlock said. “We were there for a month. You have to wonder what it is like for people who live in this every day.”
According to www.responsible wealth.org, the federal minimum wage, presently $5.15 an hour, would need to be raised to $8.20 an hour simply to let recipients reach the federal poverty level.
In the early 1990s, a coalition of religious leaders, community organizations and labor activists in Baltimore began campaigning for the creation of a “living wage” that would meet, at minimum, the federal poverty level. The campaign specifically targeted employers with government contracts or tax subsidies, claiming that tax dollars shouldn’t be used to subsidize substandard wages.
In 1994, Baltimore became the first U.S. city to adopt a living wage ordinance. Currently, more than 125 local governments have some form of living wage legislation.
The United Methodist Social Principles states that “every person has the right to a job at a living wage” (Par. 163.C, The Book of Discipline 2004). The 1996 General Conference created a Concern for Workers Task Force which, in conjunction with annual conference and local church leaders, would advocate for workers’ rights.
The Rev. Darren Cushman Wood, pastor of Speedway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, is a task force member. He is also author of Blue Collar Jesus: How Christianity Supports Workers’ Rights [Seven Locks Press, (800) 354-5348].
|The Rev. Darren Cushman Wood|
Wood is helping organize a labor drive for the city janitors in Indianapolis, who, at current wages, would have to work 105 hours per week just to meet the federal poverty level.
“Surprisingly, it can be difficult to get church participation in such issues,” he said. “A lot of churches drift more toward a social service model than advocacy.”
The Rev. Rebekah Jordan is a United Methodist deacon and executive director of the Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice in Memphis, Tenn. She encourages churches to hold special services raising the issue both on Labor Day Sunday – and on Mother’s Day.
“Mothers’ Day is an important day to talk about living wages,” Jordan said. “This issue really affects women, parents and single moms.”
|Supporters at the living wage rally in Memphis.|
Jordan also points out that the best first step for a congregation’s involvement in a living wage campaign is to adequately pay its own employees.
“From a stewardship and theological issue, we can’t ask other businesses to alter their pay if we don’t do it ourselves,” she said.
According to the General Council on Finance and Administration, there is currently no mandate guaranteeing living wages for church employees.
Jordan suggested that while paying a living wage to all workers could be difficult for smaller churches, they could set reasonable goals and work toward a full living wage.
“All church workers do a valuable service, but sometimes we don’t think of the church staff outside clergy, and sometimes, not even clergy receive a living wage,” she said.
—Joey Butler, managing editor of Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine.
* Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice, (901) 332-3570, http://midsouthinterfaith.org
* Interfaith Worker Justice, (773) 728-8400, www.nicwj.org
* Living Wage Resource Center, (617) 740-9500, http://living wagecampaign.org
* Jobs with Justice, (202) 393-1044, www.jwj.org