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JUNE 23, 1998
4:35 PM
CONTACT:  National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice
Jill Cashen, 773-381-2832
Religious Leaders Speak Out for Human Rights in U.S. Workplace
CHICAGO - June 23 - June 23 --  Reflecting on the denial of human rights in the workplace, people of faith will stand with workers at events and hearings in cities across the country on June 24. The day of action is designed to call attention to the fierce hostility workers face when they try to join together with co-workers to seek a voice for justice in the workplace.

The National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice (NICWJ) is releasing a theological statement on workers' right to organize that supports the faith body statements from most major denominations. NICWJ also produced a responsive reading to commemorate workers struggles to stand together in the workplace.

"All religions believe in justice," said Bishop Jesse DeWitt, president, National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice and retired bishop of the United Methodist Church. "Justice applies not only in our personal relationships, but in our corporate relationships as well. And a fundamental voice for justice in the workplace is a union. Workers deserve to have this voice without fear and harassment," continued Bishop DeWitt.

Workers face increasing difficulties exercising their right to organize. Consider that: 10,000 workers are illegally fired each year for exercising their "right to organize" -- that's one in ten workers involved in organizing campaigns is fired.

Fifty percent of all employers threaten to eliminate all the workers' jobs if they join together in a union. Over 75 percent of private sector employers aggressively work against organizing drives by distributing anti-union literature, holding closed-door, one-on-one meetings with employees and hiring union-busting law firms that advise employers on how to pressure employers to vote against unions within the letter of the law. Workers who choose to go on strike because they can't reach a contract agreement can be permanently replaced. (Source: Kate Bronfenbrenner, Cornell University)

Within the industrialized world, U.S. workers face the worst labor laws and the most hostile, anti-union business climate. Given the number of workers who get fired for organizing, the chilling effect it has overall on workers' organizing, and given the extensive delays and challenges to elections that companies routinely use to discourage workers from organizing, it is a clear denial of human rights in the workplace.

According to a recent survey, nearly 50 percent of all working Americans who are not currently represented by unions would vote to join a union if they had the opportunity to do so without risking their jobs.

The National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice (NICWJ) is a network of thirty-seven local interfaith committees and people of faith that educates and mobilizes the religious community on issues and campaigns to improve wages, benefits, working conditions for low-wage workers. Founded in 1996, NICWJ's Board consists of 45 nationally respected religious leaders, including:

Roman Catholic Bishops Howard Hubbard (Diocese of Albany) and James Malone (retired, Diocese of Youngstown), Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), Rev. Theodore Erickson (United Church of Christ), Ms. Evely Laser Shlensky (Commission of Social Action of Reform Judaism), Bishop McKinley Young (African Methodist Episcopal Church), Mr. Khaled Saffuri (American Muslim Council)
Upcoming Events
Phoenix Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice is participating in a rally to support workers' rights to organize on June 27. Contact: Margaret Grannis, 602-946-5483

Little Rock
Arkansas Religion-Labor Coalition is participating in a series of events including an educational forum on July 1st with Congressman Snyder to hear workers' stories about what happened to them when they tried to organize a union. Contact: Rev. Stephen Copley, 501-798-2757

Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues is co-sponsoring a Right to Organize hearing on June 24th with the Chicago Federation of Labor and Chicago Jobs with Justice from 12:00 noon-2 p.m. at the Methodist Temple, 77 W. Washington St., Chicago. Contact: Kristi Sanford, 773-381-2832.

Massachusetts Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice will participate in a right to organize rally on June 24th. Contact: Rev. David Garcia, 617-482-4826, ext. 208.

The Coalition for Economic Justice is participating in a community speak-out for the right to organize. Contact: Joan Malone, 716-894-2013.

New York Labor Religion Coalition of New York is participating in several rallies on June 24 to support limousine drivers and restaurant workers' right to organize. For specific information, please contact Rabbi Michael Feinberg, 212-406-2156, ext. 237.

The North Carolina Poultry Justice Alliance is participating in a rally on June 26th on behalf of workers from Mount Olive Pickle Co. who are struggling to organize a union in the face of employer opposition. Contact: Dr. Jerry Taylor, 910-274-1145.

Cleveland Jobs with Justice will participate in Congressman Dennis Kucinich's hearing on June 25 about why workers' want unions. Contact: Steve Cagen, 440-333-6363

On June 24, the Houston Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice is sponsoring a justice bus tour of worksites where employers respect workers' rights and those where they violate labor law. Contact: Rev. Diana Dale, 713-266-2456.

In several area events on June 24, the Washington Religious Labor Partnership joins with Seattle Jobs with Justice in supporting area truck drivers and hospital workers who are struggling to exercise their right to organize. Contact: Rev. John Boonstra 206-625-9790 or Rosalinda Aguirre 206-441-4969.

The Faith Community for Worker Justice will hear testimony from Waukesha Technical College employees at a workers' rights board hearing on June 24. Contact: Bill Lange, 414-259-9116.

Do Workers Have the Right to Organize?
A theological statement from the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice June 24, 1998

As U.S. citizens, we strongly uphold the principles of democracy. We also are supporters of individual rights, but recognize that our religious principles are clearer on community justice and community rights than they are on individual rights.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Israelites organized to free themselves from their Egyptian slaveowners. They fought for worker rights and community rights. "The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that the imposed on them."

In Acts, the early Christians are described as taking care of one another to assure that no one had needs. "All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need." Later, when there were concerns that the widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food, the believers were told to select seven "men of good standing" to take care of the widows' needs. The believers clearly built a congregation that ensured justice for all members, and they chose some of their respected members to serve as leaders.

Religious principles are clear:
-- Work is sacred.
-- Workers should be treated with dignity and respect.
-- Workers should be paid fairly and on time.
-- Community members should take care of one another.
-- Leaders should be elected who are honest and have good standing in the community.

Unfortunately, today in the U.S., many workers give up most of their democratic, individual and community rights when they enter the workplace. Workers are not guaranteed a just wage, family benefits, family-friendly schedules, the ability to participate in workplace issues, the right to speak, the right to due process (most employees can be fired "at will" as long as its not for age, race, gender or disability reasons), nor the right to organize. The religious principles addressing work and community responsibility for one another are routinely ignored in some workplaces.

One effective way that workers have achieved family wages and benefits, a voice on the job, fair grievance procedures, and an alternative power to managements with almost unlimited powers in the workplace, has been to organize unions. Although unions are not perfect, they have enabled millions of workers to participate more actively in workplaces.

Most faith bodies have social teachings or denominational statements on workers' rights to organize. (See What Faith Groups Say about the Right to Organize, published by the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice) But having solid positions and statements is not sufficient. Those in the religious community who are serious about economic justice must begin to put their principles into action. People of faith must support workers who seek to organize and seek to get contracts. We must challenge companies that fire workers who organize, intimidate workers in the workplace by holding mandatory anti-union meetings or badgering workers about voting against unions, stall or refuse to negotiate contracts, permanently replace or lock out workers.
The National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice is a network of thirty-seven local interfaith committees and people of faith that educates and mobilizes the religious community on issues and campaigns to improve wages, benefits, working conditions for low-wage workers.

National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice
1607 W. Howard Street, Suite 218 Chicago, IL 60626,
773-381-2832, phone;
773-381-3345, fax;


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