Saturday, January 21, 2012

Why Unions Matter

The Wichita Eagle featured a front page story on January 20, 2012 attacking labor unions and asserting that Kansas would be better off without them. I beg to differ. Unions benefit society, workers and employers. Here are some reasons why unions matter.

Workers join unions because they want to have a voice in the workplace regarding working conditions, workloads and ways to make work more effective while protecting worker safety. Farm workers form unions to reduce their exposure to pesticides. Nursing home workers form unions to combat back injuries. Poultry workers form unions to address repetitive motion injuries. Unions give workers the voice they need to ensure that they won’t be fired or denied compensation for work-related injuries.

Workers join unions because they want fair compensation and comprehensive benefits. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008 the union pay advantage was 22 percent higher for all workers. Adequate compensation and comprehensive benefits enable workers and their families to live with dignity.

Workers join unions because they want job security. Boeing’s decision to leave Wichita reminds us that job security is not guaranteed. The company broke its word to the political leaders of our city and state and labor. But this makes the support of unions all the more important for Boeing workers who are being abandoned by their employer.

Workers join unions so that they can have the benefit of collective bargaining. Usually contract negotiations between unions and management are decent and agreed to in a relatively short period of time. Fair contracts mean that employers can count on their workforce, and workers can count on their employers. When workplace problems arise there are grievance procedures. And contracts provide for regular times for renewal. This helps create a stable, secure and predictable work environment.

I am not saying that unions are perfect. I am saying that workers are human beings who care deeply about their families, their jobs and their community. They want to provide for their loved ones, have a voice in their place of employment, and contribute to their community. In our society, unions are the primary vehicle that workers have to accomplish these goals.

Interfaith Worker Justice Kansas is a project of Global Faith in Action and an affiliate of Interfaith Worker Justice national and of the Wichita-Hutchinson Labor Federation. Our mission is to educate, organize and mobilize communities of faith, acting on the values of their traditions, to support worker justice. We honor employers who treat their employees fairly, and we stand with everyone who stands for justice in the workplace. (Primary source: IWJ doc)

Reverend David Hansen
Executive Director
Interfaith Worker Justice of Kansas

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hospitality: A Path to Justice for All

All faiths emphasize a tradition of hospitality. It is part of the deep spirituality common to all faiths. It is also part of the deep tradition of American democracy. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. boldly embodied this tradition, which affirms the dignity of every person. As we celebrate his birth, let us also remember that on the day of his assassination he was in Memphis, Tennessee standing in solidarity with sanitation workers. 

Before going to Memphis Dr.King spoke at Riverside Church in New York City where his sermon title was “Time to Break the Silence: Beyond Vietnam.” In this speech, Dr. King audaciously drew a line connecting the extravagant immorality of war with the plight of the poor in America and the conditions of low-wage and underpaid workers. 

As we celebrate the memory of Dr. King this week-end, we ache for a politics that is not about winning at all costs but about producing better lives for all people. We share the longing expressed in the words of the poet Langston Hughes, “Let America be America again.”

It is an honor to launch the blog of Interfaith Worker Justice Kansas this weekend. The hostility in our political culture embodied in efforts to suppress voter participation in elections and the coldness evidenced in our economic climate by events such as the recent announcement by Boeing that it will close its Wichita plant violate the ethics of compassion and the most precious teachings in our religious traditions.

This is why a renewal of hospitality is vital today. Democracy, like faith, is not just a system of governance; it is a way of being.The ethic of hospitality takes us beyond the work of charity, important as that is. True hospitality is a commitment to help every person meet her or his basic needs with dignity.

In this spirit, IWJ Kansas is committed to advocating for the rights of all workers and affirming the work of employers who are advocates for excellence, which begins with a commitment to fairness for all. We are a diverse community, but everyone deserves to be treated with dignity. 

Interfaith Worker Justice of Kansas is working to building an interfaith, multiracial and multicultural community committed to renewing an ethic of hospitality as a path to justice for all. We are a program of Global Faith in Action, an affiliate of the national Interfaith Worker Justice organization and the Wichita-Hutchinson Federation of Labor.

I invite you to join us.

Kim Bobo, IWJ National Executive Director, coming to Wichita in May

Kim Bobo, the founder and national Executive Director of IWJ, will be in Wichita May 16 and 17, 2012. She will meet with leaders of the faith community on the afternoon of the 16th and speak at a public event that evening. She will be the keynote speaker at the Community Service Awards luncheon on May 17th.