Stand up for workers
‘Thou shalt not steal,’ but wage theft is real
About 15 years ago, not a single Christian denomination in the United States employed an advocate for worker justice. Today there are only two such staff persons, says Kim Bobo, executive director and founder of Interfaith Worker Justice.
At a time when jobs, the economy and the growing wealth gap are among the most important issues in politics, we must advocate for the rights of workers.
Bobo addressed those of us gathered for the Associated Church Press annual convention in Chicago on May 1 — otherwise known as May Day, or International Workers’ Day.
Bobo shared three lessons on worker justice that she pulled from Hab. 2:1-3. The lessons were meant for church communicators — she called us “heralds” — but I think they apply to all followers of Jesus:
Station yourself on the ramparts. “Are you lifting up the crises and injustices in our nation?” Bobo asked. It is our job as journalists, and as the body of Christ, to tell stories about the unemployment/underemployment crisis, the income crisis, the benefits crisis, the immigration crisis and the organizing crisis.
Make the issues plain. Many of us care about justice but don’t know how to help. We need clear ways to put our faith in action. Visit iwj.org to learn more.
Organize the heralds to run. We need to pray, encourage, give to charity and advocate for just policies at the local, state and national levels. We’re in this together because we all know someone who is hurting.
Ever since Bobo spoke, I keep thinking about the millions of victims of wage theft. These hardworking people are illegally underpaid or not paid at all. Bobo’s book, Wage Theft in America (2009), says “almost half of day laborers, who tend to focus on construction work, have had their wages stolen.” At least 2 million workers aren’t paid minimum wage, she says, and the Economic Policy Foundation estimated that companies annually steal $19 billion in unpaid overtime.
Wage theft is even happening in the church. Congregations, knowingly or not, misclassify musicians and other lay staff as independent contractors, resulting in unpaid wages and payroll taxes.
The Bible is clear: Thou shalt not steal. Jesus affirms this when talking with the “rich young ruler.” And Deut. 24:14-15 says, “You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers … You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them.”
As followers of Jesus, we can and must stand up for workers’ rights. One way to do that is to share stories. Every story we tell points to a larger message and is a road sign on our collective journey toward liberty and justice for all.
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