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Labor Issues

Stated Clerk backs public employees’ collective bargaining rights

Parsons: Dignity of labor theologically connected to doctrine of vocation

by Jerry L. Van Marter, Presbyterian News Service
[posted here 3-5-11]

LOUISVILLE – The Rev. Gradye Parsons, General Assembly stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has written a letter to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, urging him to call off a plan to balance the state budget in part by de-unionizing state workers.

Parsons’ letter backs a Feb. 19 call from the Presbytery of John Knox ? based in Madison, Wisc. — for Walker “and Wisconsin’s other elected representatives to enter into good-faith negotiations with Wisconsin’s public employee unions to deal with Wisconsin’s current budget issues and to respect the rights of all workers to collectively bargain for wages and benefits.”

Parsons and other religious leaders are also appealing to President Obama “to take measures to preserve the integrity of government promises and the health of local and regional economies.”

The full text of Parsons’ letter to Walker, dated Feb. 28: 

I am writing on behalf of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on the matter of collective bargaining by public employees of state governments. The policies of our General Assembly, the highest governing council of our church, have repeatedly addressed matters of unionization and collective bargaining. We fully support the urgent communication you have received from the John Knox Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), our regional judicatory based in Madison, Wisconsin, and repeat what they have quoted for you-a portion of our long-standing commitment to the right of workers to bargain collectively: 

The 1995 General Assembly statement ("God's Work in Our Hands") specifically provides: "Justice demands that social institutions guarantee all persons the opportunity to participate actively in economic decision making that affects them. All workers ... have the right to choose to organize for the purposes of collective bargaining." 

Therefore, The Presbytery of John Knox, meeting on February 19,2011 in Muscoda, Wisconsin, caleds upon Governor Scott Walker and Wisconsin's other elected representatives to enter into good-faith negotiations with Wisconsin's public employee unions to deal with Wisconsin's current budget issues and to respect the rights of all workers to collectively bargain for wages and benefits. 

As Presbyterians we base the rights of all workers, corporations and governments in a doctrine of covenant or mutual accountability that undergirds all contracts and includes our social contract in the United States. We share with many people of faith the conviction that collective bargaining is a concrete measure by which burdens and benefits are shared in a manner deeply consistent with both our faith and our democratic values. Our doctrine of vocation affirms that all human beings have a calling from God to serve the common good. 

It is our understanding that your state workers have already agreed to significant sacrifices as an appropriate part of the overall effort to reduce expenses. To take away their future right to collective bargaining is an attack on a basic principle, rather than simply a cost-cutting measure. We challenge your administration to embody fairness and the sharing of burdens in your tax and wage policies, and to lead by your own example.

To learn more about the PC(USA)’s historic understanding of collective bargaining, unions and labor relations, read the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy’s compilation of related General Assembly actions.

To read this story on the PC(USA) website >>

More on the Express Scripts vs. its labor union

In the Fall 2010 issue of Network News we reported on the SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania challenges to a plan by Express Scripts (which handles prescription orders for the Presbyterian Board of Pensions, among others) to close its facility of Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Their plan was to move that work to a non-union plant in the St. Louis area.

We were happy to report on our website in December that members of the union in Bensalem had voted overwhelmingly to approve a settlement that will preserve approximately 400 jobs at the Street Road facility, reversing the Company’s announcement of plans to shutter all of its Bensalem operations. It also provides a substantial severance package to approximately 500 workers facing layoff as a result of the closure of the Marshall Lane facility and some downsizing at Street Road. (Click here for more on the struggle of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania to gain just treatment from Express Scripts.)

PVJ member Dennis Maher, of Lake Luzerne, NY, provides the latest update:

Here is a recent follow up story on Express Scripts:

Earlier we learned that Express Scripts was consolidating its operations in the St. Louis area where its employees are not unionized. This article describes company celebrations for many millions of dollars of state and local tax incentives to help them expand. Expansion includes more layoffs and moving an undisclosed number of jobs perhaps to India or the Philippines.

Workers at Bensalem settled in December with good results, ONLY because they were unionized. I raised the labor issues at Bensalem with the Board of Pensions in November and received this answer:

Dear Dr. Maher,

Thank you for your recent email regarding Express Scripts. The Board of Pensions of the PCUSA has no comment.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions.

Best Regards,

Johnson, Mary [unsigned]

So the PCUSA has no comment about labor issues with its contractor for prescription drugs. Also, the PCUSA nowhere has any comment that I can find on the labor issues in Wisconsin and other states, where collective bargaining itself is threatened. 

[NOTE from your WebWeaver:  Since Dr. Miller sent this note, Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons has written a letter to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, urging him to call off a plan to balance the state budget in part by de-unionizing state workers.  Click here >> ]

I am thinking how far we have come since the days when social consciousness was institutionalized in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Few today are interested in witness, but only in new gimmicks to save a church that may be declining because it has little integrity in its witness.

Denny Maher
Lake Luzerne NY

SB 1070, Immigration, and Worker Rights:
From Arizona to Wisconsin and Beyond

by the Rev. Trina Zelle

The Rev. Trina Zelle gave this keynote address on Thursday morning, Feb. 24, for the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin, on the occasion of their Labor/Religion Breakfast. It obviously comes at a critical time for the labor movement in Wisconsin, when labor unions in general, and especially public employee unions, are under attack by the state’s governor and the Republican-dominated legislature.

Trina is the director of Interfaith Worker Justice of Arizona, and served as co-moderator of the Witherspoon Society from 2006 to 2008.

Public employee unions are under attack!

For more information, check out The Wisconsin State Journal or The Nation.

Here's the full text of her talk, with our thanks for her giving permission to post it here.

Good morning. It is an honor to be here with you today. And let me begin by bringing you greetings of solidarity from the 60% of Arizonans who aren’t – to use that Texas phrase I am so fond of – a bubble off plumb. (I’ll leave that to the carpenters and construction folks among you to figure that out!) That is to say, the good people of Arizona who get up and fight every day for the working families of Arizona.

I am here to tell you that what has been going on in Arizona, and what is going on here in Wisconsin is linked. Literally. One of the most draconian anti-immigrant bills ever to be written and the attempts of Governor Walker to eviscerate the union movement in Wisconsin are of a piece. Both in terms of a dystopian world view that sees working people as commodities to be manipulated and in terms of the actual behind-the-scene players. Both part of a larger effort to turn back the clock to the Robber Baron era or the England of Charles Dickens. Both constituting a grave threat, not only to the people of our respective states, but all working Americans, the union movement, and the Union – as in these 50 United States – itself.

Where to begin in such a complicated and ugly story? When SB 1070 was signed into law last April 23, it was a culmination of increasingly vicious anti-immigrant bills in Arizona; including the denial of bail for the most petty misdemeanor to the denial of workers compensation for injured undocumented workers. But SB1070 outdid them all. It has as its stated goal, and I quote directly from the legislation itself, “enforced attrition.” Translation, we are going to make things so miserable for you here, you will leave on your own.

No matter what meme is put out there by apologists for this legislation, this means that you are subject to questioning, arrest, and deportation if the grass on your front lawn is too long, or if someone is of the opinion that there are too many people living in your house. Although some of the more egregious aspects of the bill have been temporarily set aside by a federal judge (who had to go under police protection following her ruling), I could still have my car impounded if someone who is riding with me is found to be out of status. Given the mixed immigrant status of many Latino families, this means that you could be arrested for taking Grandma to the doctor.

But what’s this all about? Where did this desire to inflict misery on a once tolerated part of the population come from? And why has it seemed to resonate with so many across the nation that now, states are vying with each other to out Arizona, Arizona?

There are a number of reasons. Among them, well-documented nativist racism and the aggressive lobbying of a private prison industry with cells to fill, but the reason that carries all the others along is as old as the first contractual arrangement between human beings – the drive to control labor. More accurately, to disenfranchise labor and thereby maximize profits on the backs of workers. To so demonize one group of people that the rest of us won’t notice that we’re being taken to the cleaners too – just less obviously – for now. Not all that different from what you’re seeing at work here in Wisconsin – you see, not only does Walker’s “budget repair bill” gut public sector unions, it gives him the authority to award Wisconsin’s public utilities to anyone he sees fit to do so on a no-bid basis. Can you say, “Koch Brothers?”

At this point, I’d like to step back for a moment and give you a brief history of this most current “immigration crisis” – both in the state of Arizona and nationwide – from my own personal experience and perspective.

In the Fall of 1993 I had barely unpacked from our family’s move to El Paso, Texas, when the North American Free Trade Agreement was passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton. Concurrent with these events the El Paso Sector Border Patrol established a border blockade, called “Operation Hold the Line,” which abruptly cut off the free flow of traffic between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso. On January 1, 1994, NAFTA was implemented. By the end of 1994, the Mexican peso was devalued, going from 3 pesos to the US dollar to 10 pesos to the US dollar.

The result of this was a Mexico plunged into severe economic crisis. Property values dropped and unemployment soared, but since NAFTA is only about the free movement of goods, Mexican workers had limited options. The traditional journey to the United States to find temporary work was met with border fences, which were an extension of the initial 1993 blockade. This not only stopped these new workers, it disrupted the circular migration that had characterized the US/Mexico labor exchange for generations. Unable to risk going back to Mexico to visit family, people who had managed to cross over, stopped going home. Some families migrated north for the first time.

In an attempt to control what was imagined to be a flood of desperate workers coming across the border, our federal government, in 1996, made the strategic decision to block the border in such a way that border crossers would be funneled through the extreme conditions of the Sonoran desert into southern Arizona. The rationale was that no one would be crazy enough to attempt to cross such rugged terrain. But desperate people will and desperate people did and they started dying, and continue to do so. To date, more than 5,000 men, women, and children have died excruciating and lonely deaths in the desert.

Then came 9/11 and brown skin attained the status of “probable cause.”

On June 27, 2003, Anthony Tangeman, Director of Homeland Security’s Office for Detention and Removal released a forty-five page memorandum that he had begun working on in September of 2001. This nine year strategic plan starting in 2003 and scheduled to end in 2012 was titled “Endgame.” The stated goal of Endgame is the removal of every “removable alien from the United States” by 2012. As far as I am aware, Endgame is still very much with us, being played out in programs like “Safe Communities” and the 287g arrangement between immigration and local law enforcement. And every time I hear someone scoff and say, ‘no one’s going to try to deport 12 million people,’ I think about Endgame.

As all of this was happening, the economy began to tank, in large part because of Wall Street’s bad behavior, and our long-simmering American ambivalence about immigrants came to a full anti-immigrant boil. Its flames were fanned by organizations like the Federation for American Immigration Reform and its even less savory affiliate entities, founded by a man who is on record as saying that he fears the destruction of the white race. This group proudly admits to drafting Arizona’s legislation and has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Even so, its offshoot organization – the Center for Immigration Reform, or CIR – is often uncritically quoted by such illustrious news outlets as NPR with no reference to its ties.

The narrative surrounding “the immigration debate” is hard to argue against, partly because it is replete with plausible characters – working class whites, angry at the disappearance of their jobs; immigrant criminals; a weak federal government, failing to pass much needed immigration reform. That’s why SB 1070 passed, we are told. And why there’s so much support in other states for similar legislation.

But that’s the narrative for public consumption. What’s really going on?

As Deep Throat tells the young Watergate reporter, “Follow the money.”

Take Corrections Corporation of America – or CCA. Now the fastest growing industry in Arizona, it’s hard to remember that at the end of the nineties, private prisons had become a losing proposition. But then the scapegoating of immigrants exponentially increased and there was CCA, ready to fill the void. Finally, there were bodies to fill those beds and cells. Even better, bodies with few rights and fewer resources

And surprise, surprise. Suddenly, the private prison industry was booming again.

The financial interests of Arizona’s major political players with regard to private prisons and the passage of SB 1070 are well-documented, so I won’t revisit them here. In a nutshell, hunting, arresting, warehousing, and transporting immigrants is big business and as a result, a lot of folks in Arizona are doing quite well.

But immigration incarceration as a cash crop is only the lead in. The rest is about worker disenfranchisement. Most of the cases we see at our worker rights center – as with yours I’m sure – involves wage theft. The withholding of payment for work that has already been done. Since SB 1070 was signed into law last April we have witnessed increasing brazenness on the parts of many employers – who are quite upfront with their threats: leave me alone or I’ll call Sheriff Joe! Standing up for one’s rights could very easily end in arrest and deportation.

This exploitation and intimidation of workers isn’t really new – just the old bad behavior on steroids. And it represents an attitude that dates back at least 160 years to the end of the Civil War. Obviously, the abolition of slavery in 1865 ruined a sweet set-up for a lot of folks not to mention the entire southern economy which was based on unpaid labor. Suddenly, former slaves were supposed to be paid. But former slave owners were not deterred – where there’s a will, there’s a way and while the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution ended slavery in general, it specifically excluded prisoners from the abolition of slavery and indentured servitude.

And thus was born the “hiring out of prisoners” system made possible by a justice system that had nothing to do with justice.

All too often, freed slaves in the south found themselves charged with such crimes as “shirking their sharecropping duties” or “petty theft,” automatically convicted and, once again without freedom,“hired out” by the local powers that be for cotton picking, working in mines and building railroads. According to Vicky Pelaez writing for “Global Research” in 2008, fully 88% of Georgia’s “hired out” convicts from 1870 to 1910 were African American. In Alabama, 93% of the hired out miners were African Americans. In Mississippi, prison farms functioned in the same way with the same population until 1972.

This legacy of exploitation extended up to and through the New Deal, when the Fair Labor Standards Act excluded from coverage jobs that had been traditionally carried out by slaves. Initially, southern legislators had objected to this legislation, arguing that southern employers should be allowed to pay lower wages than in the north, but with so many “slave jobs” excluded from protection, the Act got their vote.

Which brings me back to SB 1070 and the forces behind it. We know that the nativist Taunton network folks had a large hand in its drafting, but other groups actively lobbied for its passage as well, including the American Legislative Exchange Council – or ALEC. ALEC exists to bring its member corporations (including the Koch Brothers) together with federal and state legislators to write business friendly legislation. It proudly acknowledges being behind the enactment of laws authorizing and increasing the use of prison contract labor throughout industry.

Including agriculture, which is why ALEC has vigorously lobbied for tough, anti-immigrant laws, including SB 1070. With traditional immigrant farm workers replaced by inmates, the profit margin for agribusinesses greatly increases. Using prison labor means that there’s no danger of a twenty-first century Cesar Chavez emerging. Today, female prisoners from Colorado pick crops once picked by immigrant labor and the same thing is happening in Arizona.

But it doesn’t stop with agribusiness. ALEC often serves as a broker between government and multiple industries to put prisoners to work. As of 2008, 37 states had legalized the contracting out of prison labor by private corporations. The list of corporations utilizing prison labor ranges from IBM and Verizon to Target, Intel, Nordstrom’s and Dell. Inmates in state penitentiaries usually receive minimum wage – although DOJ rules stipulate “prevailing wage.” But private prisons? That’s another matter. In private prisons, inmates receive as little of 17 cents an hour although some CCA prisons pay as much as 50 cents an hour for highly skilled work.

And did I mention that ALEC and its member organizations are also behind many of the mandatory sentencing laws that keep non-violent, disproportionately African American, prisoners incarcerated and available to the prison industrial complex for contract labor? You might call it their own workforce readiness program.

So here’s the deal. Or the New Deal as rewritten by the hard right of our country. In order to maximize their profits, labor costs have to be minimized even further. What can’t be outsourced to countries with weak labor protections can be in-sourced using prison labor. Immigrants are no longer an important part of the mix – at least the ones who aren’t incarcerated – because like immigrants throughout the history of the United States they have an annoying tendency to organize and demand their rights. With the vitality of immigrant labor under assault, all that remains to be done n order to completely disenfranchise labor is to break the unions, beginning with the most powerful ones and symbolically in a state with deep roots in the labor movement.

And now let’s talk about Governor Walker’s relationship with some of the aforementioned businesses and business associations. To wit, ALEC and the Koch Brothers. Walker’s bill stripping public sector unions of their collective bargaining rights was, as reporter Ezra Klein explains, “cooked up by ALEC.” As we know, similar bills are being introduced in Ohio and Indiana, and threaten to overtake the nation in the same kind of mindless firestorm that SB 1070 has. Walker had originally intended to de-certify the unions by executive order but learned that he couldn’t do that, hence his “Shock Doctrine” declaration of budget crisis – even though there had been a surplus until his tax give-aways to business.

One of Walker’s fellow governors-in-crime is in the process of setting the stage for similar union-busting actions by citing the notion of the “new normal.” Meaning that we’d all better get used to being deprived of our hard earned rights and lower our expectations for ourselves and our children. Meaning that we should accept the migration of our white collar jobs to other nations with well educated, but low wage workforces, and our blue collar jobs to our domestic Prison Industrial Complex which holds a limitless supply of the kind of workers corporate America wants. In this “new normal” we’re supposed to be grateful for whatever crumbs we are thrown – even though we’re the ones baking the bread!

And yes these corporations understand that this is destroying families and destabilizing communities across the United States. They don’t care. Why should they? Their “new normal” is bringing them profits beyond their wildest dreams.

In the book Deep Survival, Laurence Gonzalez describes the experiences of several seasoned hikers who got so lost in the wilderness that they had to be rescued. Virtually all of them report having had maps. After being rescued, the hikers realized that they had been guilty of “map bending:” trying to forcibly reconcile the actual unfamiliar terrain where they found themselves onto the no longer relevant map in their hands.

I think that some of us in the faith community, and to a lesser degree, in the labor community are guilty of map bending. We refuse to believe that what is transpiring in front of our eyes is really happening. We tell ourselves, oh it couldn’t be that bad or these people are so ridiculous they are going to over reach and discredit themselves. We undervalue solidarity and forget who our real friends are.

I’m here to tell you that the terrain has changed. The situation is dire. The stakes are high. We need to draw ourselves a new map that accurately reflects the hostile terrain where we find ourselves. That’s the only way we’re ever going to get to higher ground safe and whole.

One place that map is being drawn is here in Madison, Wisconsin. In the Capitol Rotunda where people are coming together. Where people are supporting each other with resolve and the kind of joy that emerges in the presence of love and respect and gratitude for the opportunity to stand together for what is good and right in this state and in this nation. Where people from all walks of life look at each other with brimming eyes and say, if not now when, if not here, where; if not us, who?

I thank God for you and all of the good working people of Wisconsin. Who have told the governor and his handlers and the rest of them: “This stops here and now. We will hold the line. And we will not be moved.”

"A remarkable victory"...

NY Times editorial celebrates Immokalee farmworkers’ agreement with Florida Tomato Growers   [12-6-10]

This comes to us from the Presbyterian Campaign for Fair Food

An editorial published in Saturday's New York Times begins: 

"Fair trade is finally coming to the tomato fields of Florida, where farmworkers have won a remarkable victory in a 15-year struggle for better pay and working conditions. Last month, they struck a deal with growers to raise workers’ pay and to create an industry code of conduct, a health and safety program and a system to resolve worker complaints..."

The editorial goes on to give a brief primer on the history of the campaign, reminds the reader that the supermarket industry has yet to do its part to support the Fair Food movement, and concludes, "The Immokalee victory won’t impose fairness overnight, but after generations of exploitation, part of the farm industry is pointing in the right direction."

Go to the CIW website to see the editorial and all the latest news from the Campaign for Fair Food.

You know something big is happening when events in Immokalee make it into the pages of, first, the Wall Street Journal and, now, the "Old Gray Lady", so stay tuned!

Thanks - Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Is our PC(USA) supporting union busting?
prepared by Doug King    [11-13-10]

For some time now, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, a branch of the Service Employees International Union, has been calling on Express Scripts to cancel its plan to close its prescription shipping facility in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, which would put 365 people out of work, many of whom are low wage workers with families.

The union workers have offered $8 million in wage and benefit concessions to help keep the plant open. Even though these concessions included giving in to the company’s demand that workers give up their pension plan, so far the company management has been unwilling with the union, which unites 20,000 health care workers from all areas of the health care industry in Pennsylvania.

Now the union is approaching a number of organizations that have sizable contracts with Express Scripts for mail-order prescription medicine, asking their support. One of those customers just happens to be the Presbyterian Church (USA). So a few days ago, a delegation of Express Scripts workers, who are union members, went to the main office of the Presbyterian Board of Pensions, seeking to make the church aware of the issue.  No one at the Board of Pensions would meet with them, and no one has responded to their letters.

We’re one of Express Scripts’ clients, since over 120,000 people with medical coverage under the Board of Presbyterians have their prescriptions filled by the company. The union believes this puts the Board of Pensions among the top 25% of Express Scripts’ largest clients.

Our church’s social policies clearly support workers’ rights, just wages, and the principle of labor unions as a means to achieving justice.

So ... how might the PC(USA) respond to this conflict between management and labor?  What does God's call to "do justice" mean for us in this situation?

For more of the story, and the questions and possibilities for us >>

Recipe for Slavery: Take US farm labor relations, add "guestworker" visas, and voila... Forced labor!

Federal prosecutors in Honolulu unseal indictment charging forced labor ring active in 13 states including – yet again – Florida;

Multi-state operation involves guestworker recruiting giant Global Horizons in what prosecutors are calling "the largest human trafficking case in US history"...

Labor Day weekend will be celebrated with a little more meaning this year by 400 farmworkers from around the country whose bosses were charged yesterday by Justice Department officials in Hawaii with "conspiracy to commit human trafficking."

The image above is from an excellent video by Honolulu's KITV on the news of yesterday's indictment. You can watch the video by clicking here.

Six people in the US were charged in the case, including four employees of Global Horizons Manpower, Inc, a labor recruiting company that specializes in the overseas recruitment of "guestworkers," foreign workers brought to the US to work in agriculture under an H2A visa for temporary employment in agriculture... 

For more on this story, go to the CIW website today,

An excellent video by Honolulu's KITV, on the news of yesterday's indictment, can be viewed by clicking here.

Thanks, and happy Labor Day!  

Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Recipe for Slavery: Take US farm labor relations, add "guestworker" visas, and voila... Forced labor!

Federal prosecutors in Honolulu unseal indictment charging forced labor ring active in 13 states including -- yet again -- Florida;

Multi-state operation involves guestworker recruiting giant Global Horizons in what prosecutors are calling "the largest human trafficking case in US history"...


Labor Day weekend will be celebrated with a little more meaning this year by 400 farmworkers from around the country whose bosses were charged yesterday by Justice Department officials in Hawaii with "conspiracy to commit human trafficking."

The image above is from an excellent video by Honolulu's KITV on the news of yesterday's indictment.  You can watch the video by clicking here.

Six people in the US were charged in the case, including four employees of Global Horizons Manpower, Inc, a labor recruiting company that specializes in the overseas recruitment of "guestworkers," foreign workers brought to the US to work in agriculture under an H2A visa for temporary employment in agriculture... 

For more on this story, go to the CIW website today,

Thanks, and happy Labor Day!  

Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Throw Glenn Beck some social justice this Labor Day!

This message comes to us from Interfaith Worker Justice    [8-17-10]

Glenn Beck recently attacked churches that embraced social justice. In the wake of his rant, Labor in the Pulpits gives us an opportunity to share the real meaning of social justice and its intersection with workers and the faith community.

The dream of justice for working families is a dream shared by the labor movement and the faith community. From the earliest struggles for worker justice, allies from the faith community have stood side by side with workers, to provide the moral framework in the efforts to help workers.

This Labor Day weekend, join Interfaith Worker Justice in celebrating the link between the faith community and worker justice. Interfaith Worker Justice has worked with faith leaders to develop faith-based resources that can be used in services. These prayers, hymns, reflections and bulletin inserts can be used in a service to celebrate the religious community's efforts to support workers' struggles.  Click here for more information and many resources.

In peace and justice,
Cynthia Brooke
Communications Director, Interfaith Worker Justice

Pass the Word: Sweatshop-Free T-shirts

From Melanie Hardison, Enough for Everyone, PC(USA)   [4-22-10]

Do you know a congregation, camp, youth group or Vacation Bible School that’s planning to print T-shirts?  Please share with them the good news of Sweat-Free Ts – shirts made by a cooperative, not a sweatshop – available from the PC(USA).

Sweat-Free Ts come from the Nueva Vida sewing cooperative in Nicaragua, which began as an economic development initiative in the wake of Hurricane Mitch.  In 1998 the Presbyterian Hunger Program provided seed money, and in 2003 was proud to come full circle with our support by also becoming a customer.  Since that time, support from groups across the church has made it possible for us to purchase over 133,000 T-shirts from the cooperative! (And this figure does not include special orders for Presbyterian Women, Presbyterian Youth Triennium and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance!) 

Shirts can be ordered from Presbyterian Distribution Service online or by phone.  They come blank with only the Sweat-Free T logo printed in black on the sleeve; groups are free to screen print, tie-dye or otherwise creatively imprint the shirts with their own logo or design. 

bulletTake advantage of the 20% discount on orders of 50 shirts or more. 
bulletRead the recent Presbyterian News Service article about the cooperative.
bulletCheck it out: The cooperative’s current project is sewing shirts for the 2010 Presbyterian Youth Triennium!

Shirts are available in 100% organic cotton that feels great.  Colors are White, Natural and Presbyterian Blue.  Sizes range from Child Small to Adult 3XL. Get educational materials.

Thanks for helping spread the Good News!

In hope,

Melanie Hardison, Enough for Everyone, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
(888) 728-7228 x5626

Extend Unemployment and COBRA Now!

This call for action comes from Interfaith Worker Justice

Are you unemployed? Do you know someone who is? Urgent action is needed TODAY to make sure that Congress extends the lifeline for workers by extending unemployment and COBRA coverage before the end of the month

Interfaith Worker Justice has stood with workers in times of economic prosperity and continues to stand with them  in this time of economic crisis. Your response will help someone put food on the table, keep their lights on and of course, enable them to live with some dignity during this harsh economic climate.  Click Here to take action now!

Peace and solidarity,
Renaye Manley
Director of Union and Congregational Outreach
Interfaith Worker Justice

U.S. Labor Dept. reinstates decades-old farm worker protections rules    [2-12-10]

UFW applauds return to bi-partisan farm worker regulations

news release from United Farm Workers

Washington – 02/11/2010 – U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced today reinstatement of protections for imported farm workers that were slashed from the nation's agricultural guest worker program during the last days of the Bush administration in early 2009.

The Bush administration's changes to the H-2A agricultural guest worker program, which took effect on January 17, 2009, dramatically impacted wages and working conditions for foreign agricultural workers. Under the Bush rules, agricultural employers could more easily access cheap foreign labor with little government oversight.

"The United Farm Workers applauds Secretary Solis for restoring protections for imported farm workers that had been in effect since the Reagan administration. This is a great victory for all farm workers," said Arturo S. Rodriguez, UFW president.

More >>
November 19th:
Campaign against Wage Theft National Day of Action

On November 19th, agencies, organizations, and individuals will join together in taking action to fight Wage Theft. Some will join in delegations to unethical employers, while others will participate in demonstrations and other actions to raise awareness and support for those who have had wages stolen.

If interested in joining in the National Day of Action or more information on the National Day of Action, please contact Cara Gold at or (773)728-8400 x 34.

Click here for more information on local actions around the nation >>

From Kim Bobo, Interfaith Worker Justice:

According to a National Employment Law Project study of more than 4,000 low-wage workers, the average worker had $51 stolen out of average weekly earnings of $399 or 15 percent of his or her pay. That's money that could have bought a turkey and sides. 

We know wage theft hurts workers and their families. I'm sure we all agree that like any crime, wage theft is a problem which must be solved.

On November 19, my colleagues and I will join wage theft victims as they share their stories before religious leaders, politicians and members of the press who will gather in Washington D.C. and 30 cities around the country for the National Day of Action to Stop Wage Theft.

Here are some of the things we're asking Congress, the Department of Labor, workers advocates, and the business community to do to stop wage theft: 


Educate and raise public consciousness of the crisis of wage theft;


Create meaningful wage theft prevention and enforcement partnerships between government agencies and community organizations;


Pass a national mandate requiring employers to provide workers with pay stubs;


Conduct targeted investigations of industries and companies the DOL and community organizations have identified as willful, repeat violators;


Assess meaningful penalties that would deter wage theft.

Together, we can do this!

Farm Worker Ministry urges opposition to nomination of chemical lobbyist as U.S

 Chief Agricultural Negotiator.     [10-29-09]

This call for action comes to us from National Farm Worker Ministry. We present it here in slightly edited form.

The Farmworker Association of Florida has asked the National Farm Worker Ministry to alert our supporters to the White House's nomination of Islam Siddiqui, current vice president for science and regulatory affairs, and formerly a lobbyist, with CropLife America, which represents the chemical pesticide industry. He is being nominated to the critical post of U.S. Chief Agricultural Negotiator. Farmworker groups fighting for years to regulate pesticide use are disappointed by the White House’s action.

The Farmworker Association of Florida, which represents 6,700 farm worker families working in the tomato and citrus industries, remains disturbed by the appointment. "Siddiqui's role at USTR will not be about promoting organic products, but eliminating trade barriers for developing countries to accept toxic chemicals and pesticides," said Tirso Moreno, general coordinator for FWAF. "That is CropLife America's agenda. They continue to try to stop any international attempts to help us regulate pesticide uses. Farmworkers have the highest rate of chemical-related illnesses of any occupational group. Our community suffers from nausea, liver damage, birth defects, and cancer as a result of exposure to these poisons. For the health of farmworkers around the world, we urge that his nomination be rejected."

Click HERE to sign the petition to President Obama urging that he withdraw the nomination of Siddiqui.

For more on this problematic nomination >>

An important step for stopping and deterring wage theft

Interfaith Worker Justice applauds legislative action

News release from Interfaith Worker Justice

Interfaith Worker Justice applauds leading House Democrats, who today introduced a critical piece of legislation to ensure that workers do not lose their wages while the U.S. Department of Labor investigates wage theft by employers who drag the process out. The legislation is a welcome response to a stinging Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation that revealed the federal government's abysmal failure to enforce the nation's wage and hour laws.

The Wage Theft Prevention Act (H.R. 3303) is based on a GAO recommendation made in a report released this week. The bill would ensure that delays in investigating claims of wage theft will not result in a permanent loss of back pay for workers. The GAO found many investigations of wage theft were inadequately handled by the Bush administration's Wage and Hour Division and were dropped because the statute of limitations is too short and investigations took too long. To ensure that workers do not lose their hard-earned wages, the bill would freeze the statute of limitations from the date an employer is informed of an investigation until the agency notifies the employer that the investigation has concluded.    More >>


Dear friend,

The elections are over and the nation has elected Barack Obama. Regardless of whom you voted for, the willingness of the American public to elect its first African American president is an historic breakthrough in a nation still struggling with racism and the remnants of slavery. We also saw unprecedented engagement of Americans in the electoral process, demonstrating the vitality of our democracy. These are signs of such hope in the society.

Nonetheless, the challenges facing our new president and his team are enormous. Employment figures that came out last week show that employers cut 240,000 jobs in October. More than ten million Americans are looking for jobs and can't find them, giving us an unemployment rate of 6.5 percent, the highest in 14 years. Working families are scared knowing they have few reserves and supports in times of economic crisis.

But given the working families platform outlined by the president-elect and Interfaith Worker Justice's mission to involve the religious community in these critical issues, the election offers opportunities for Interfaith Worker Justice to move forward an agenda that can help workers now and put in place structures that can support workers in coming decades.

With your help, we will:

1) Pass the Employee Free Choice Act. We have an opportunity early in the new Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. This important, although strikingly simple, bill would make it easier for workers to join unions and get first contracts. We will be asking you to contact your Senators in the New Year. To learn more, click here.

2) Stop Wage Theft. Interfaith Worker Justice is putting the issue of wage theft on the national agenda, both through the incredible work done by workers centers, the policy work in Washington, D.C. and my new book, Wage Theft in America. We'll send order information about the book next week, but you can begin talking with your congregation about a Spring congregational study using the book. A congregational study guide is included with the book and available on line here. It is critical that we support a reinvigorated Department of Labor that will aggressively enforce labor laws and deter wage theft.

3) Stop the Workplace Raids. We are calling upon the Bush administration to stop the workplace immigration raids - immediately. Send a letter to Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and cc Nicolas J. Smith, Chief of Staff of Immigration and Customs Enforcement: 245 Murray Lane Building, Washington DC 20528; Fax # 202-282-8401. When President-elect Obama has chosen his team, we will ask you to contact them as well. Click here to read the Interfaith Worker Justice Board of Director's statement condemning workplace immigration raids

4) Create and support Living Wage Jobs. It has been so long since the federal government played a visible role in helping create and support living wage jobs that we've almost forgotten that this is an appropriate role for the federal government - to support, encourage and enable job creation and a raising of standards throughout the society.
We need your financial support for moving all these issues. Give now and watch your contribution help us move important justice work forward.

It feels like the best of times and the worst of times. It is an exciting time in terms of new opportunities and new leadership. It is also a scary time in terms of overall conditions for working families. Our work is more important than ever.

Let us pray for our nation's new (and old) leadership and do our share to lift up the concerns of working families.

Praying for the future,

Kim Bobo
Executive Director
Interfaith Worker Justice  


Interfaith Worker Justice urges:

Waste Management workers deserve the right to organize!

Forty years after Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood with workers in their historic strike in Memphis, sanitation workers in the solid waste industry are still fighting for decent wages, safe working conditions and respect.

Waste Management workers across the country are seeking to improve their working condition and wages by organizing with the Teamsters union. Workers are facing Waste Management's fierce anti-union tactics, including captive audience meetings, letters and firings.

Sanitation workers at Waste Management deserve the right to organize in an environment free from intimidation and threats of job loss. A huge proportion of sanitation workers are Latino and African American, just as in Dr. King’s day.

As people of faith, we stand in support of these workers and encourage Waste Management to immediately stop these practices. Our religious teachings say that we are to treat others as we wish to be treated, and that laborers deserve their just reward.

Interfaith Worker Justice urges: Please add your name to the list of religious leaders and people of faith who stand with workers at Waste Management by signing the petition. Click here and scroll down a bit.

Labor notes:

Interfaith Worker Justice 2007 National Conference

Sunday, June 17 - Tuesday, June 19
Chicago, IL

This event is planned for "clergy, labor activists, seminarians and faculty."

Cost, registration and lodging information will be available on-line at by late February 2007.


New film visits Chinese sweatshops

The Feb. 12, 2007 issue of The Nation has a review by Stuart Klawans of a film, "China Blue," based on a visit to a Chinese sweatshop where garments are sewn for high-class American labels. It shows the reality of sweatshop life, and also gives the perspective of the factory owner, who feels that he is constantly being squeezed by the garment retailers.

Note:  This article is posted on The Nation's website, but may be available only to subscribers.

Now's the time to act:

Overtime pay vote expected any day.

From Working Families e-Activist Network
September 2, 2003  [posted here on 9-3-03]

The Senate debate on President Bush's overtime pay cuts will begin this week with a vote expected any day. This is the most important chance we've had to block the overtime pay cuts before they go into effect. We know you may have acted before, but PLEASE ACT AGAIN TODAY by clicking on the link below and sending a message to your U.S. senators asking them to support the Harkin Amendment that would block the Bush overtime pay cuts. It will only take a minute and will make a big difference.

The overtime pay cuts proposed by the Bush administration could take away overtime pay from at least 8 million workers. Overtime pay protections are the heart of the 40-hour workweek--and even the weekend. Without them, employers would have no reason to treat workers fairly--they could require longer and longer days without paying workers extra for their overtime hours. Click below to take action, or keep reading.

The Bush overtime pay take-away would save employers billions--right from workers' paychecks. They would allow employers to do almost anything they want by blurring the rules for overtime eligibility. One congressional study of the Bush overtime changes said they would allow employers to do almost anything.

The Bush administration changes could make large numbers of workers who have job-related training ineligible for overtime, for example. Health care, technical, computer, law enforcement, firefighting and skilled trades training could cost workers their right to overtime pay. This is completely outrageous and we need to stop it.

Send your fax:

Tell your friends, family and co-workers:

The overtime pay takeaway won't just hit workers in the pocket. According to the Economic Policy Institute, "The millions of employees who will see their pay reduced will, in all likelihood, see their hours of work increase at the same time. Once employers are not required to pay for overtime work, they will schedule more of it."

Tens of millions of working families depend on overtime pay. Please act today.

Labor advocates urge "Leave no jobless worker behind"

Original message from: "Working Families e-Activist Network" <>


Next week, on Jan. 7, when Congress returns to work, our representatives must vote immediately to help jobless workers such as the more than 800,000 who lost their unemployment benefits when they were CUT OFF three days after Christmas. House Republican leaders like Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) sent Congress home in November without voting on a bipartisan Senate-approved measure to extend benefits. The president stood by in silence until three weeks AFTER Congress adjourned.

Because of public outcry, media attention and your work on this issue, members of Congress and President Bush have realized they must do something and began speaking out for extending and restoring jobless benefits. We must make sure they do something REAL.

The current Republican proposal would mean that hundreds of thousands of families would continue to go without the already meager weekly unemployment check they need to survive. In addition, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING would be done for an ADDITIONAL 1 MILLION jobless workers whose benefits already expired before they found work.

No jobless worker should be left behind. You can help by doing three things.

bulletFirst, send a fax to Rep. Tom DeLay with a copy to President Bush and your representative by clicking on the link below. Tell them to extend and restore unemployment benefits and leave no jobless worker behind.
bulletSecond, jobless families across the nation really need your help by spreading this message to as many people as possible. Please take one minute right now to tell your friends, family and co-workers about this issue by clicking on the link below.
bulletFinally, if you know somebody who is unemployed, tell him or her about AFL-CIO resources to help survive unemployment. You can visit a special website with unemployment help by clicking on the link below.


You can sign up for Working Families e-Activist Network at:

Charleston five go to trial

Race seems one element in longshoremen's protest in South Carolina


Five members of two predominantly African-American locals of the Longshoremen in Charleston, SC, go on trial Nov. 13 for protests in Jan. 2000 against a Danish ship's use of non-union labor, charged with "incite to riot" -- a charge which seems wholly unfounded.  A statement by religious leaders is being prepared, and you may want to join in on it.  

In January of 2000, members of two predominantly African-American locals of the Longshoremen in Charleston, SC, protested a Danish ship's use of non-union labor to do work historically done by union members. The ILA members had earlier used peaceful picket lines on two different occasions, without incident. This time the 150 pickets were met by 600 riot-equipped South Carolina highway patrol officers and other police. Five union members were slapped with felony "incite to riot" charges, punishable by up to five years in prison, by the state.

When a local magistrate dropped the charges, the office of the Attorney General of South Carolina intervened and obtained indictments from a grand jury. For nearly two years they have remained under house arrest. When attorneys for the dock workers asked that Attorney General Condon be disqualified for gross misconduct, he withdrew and the case was transferred to a prosecutor in a nearby county. On October 15 a judge released them from house arrest. The trial begins on November 13.

It is implausible that these unarmed union members planned to riot against heavily armed state police. Some of the longshoremen were wounded by the police with rubber bullets, and Local 1422 President Ken Riley was clubbed on the head when he attempted to restore order.

Solidarity actions are scheduled for November 14. A web site has been established at <>.

A statement by religious leaders (not on the web site) has been prepared by Michael Szpak, (202) 637-5284, fax (202) 639-6210; the deadline is November 7.


Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


John Shuck’s new "Religion for Life" website

Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck, a Presbyterian minister currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.

Click here for his blog posts.

Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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