Monday, March 26, 2012

Interfaith Worship April 4, 2012


A Service Faith and Labor

Bringing together members of the faith community, labor and community organizations

Standing for Justice—Working for the Common Good


Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee where he had gone in support of sanitation workers who were on strike. This year marks the 44th anniversary of his death. We celebrated his birth on January 16th. Let us come together on April 4th and rededicate ourselves to his vision and to the struggle for the beloved community and justice for all.

7:00 P.M.

This is a service of witness and song and a call to action.

Sponsors: Interfaith Worker Justice Kansas, Service Employees International Union 513
, Sunflower Community Action, Global Faith in Action, Unity Church, AFL-CIO Wichita-Hutchinson Labor Federation

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Common Values

Followers of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Native Spirituality and all people of good will share common foundational values: do no harm, do not steal, love thy neighbor as thyself and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. These moral values give us common ground and remind us that it is within our means to create a society in which families of all types are honored; high-quality education and health care for all are supported, available and accessible; safe housing is affordable; workers are fairly and adequately compensated in wages and benefits; and the natural environment is protected.

Democracy is an experiment that allows people to come together to create and support political systems and social institutions that are responsive to our needs and consistent with our values. I define politics not as the “art of compromise,” or the “art of the possible,” but rather, for me, politics is the “art of creating the common good.” Creating the common good requires compromise, but compromise is not the goal. We have an immodest agenda that calls for more than “muddling through,” or “making do.” Our goal is to create a political process that is of the people, for the people and by the people. Our goal is to create a civic community in which mutual respect and environmental integrity are normative. Our goal is to create an economic system that keeps people out of poverty by sharing equitably the rewards of work and offers a safety net to help us through hard times. Our goal is to create democratic systems that invite our participation and value the contributions that each of us can make.

In this legislative season we have unique opportunities to work with our legislators and encourage them to support and enact legislation that will move us toward our goals, and to oppose legislation that hinders the realization of them. The AFL-CIO Wichita Hutchinson Labor Federation sent out an alert a few days ago urging us to contact our legislators to let them know we oppose SB 413 and SB 416. Having tried to track legislation myself, I know that it can be difficult because the numbers keep changing and it is sometimes not certain when a bill is going to come up for a vote. This is all the more reason to contact your representative directly. Our representatives have told us that phone calls are the best way to reach their office, but I know they also read emails and letters. Your representatives do want to hear from you.

Senate Bill 413 is another version of Secretary of Labor Karin Brownlee's attempt to change the composition of the panel that settles compensation and unemployment claims. Employers and labor are equally represented on the panel now. The Brownlee proposal gives employers 5 members of the 7 member nominating committee for work comp and UI judges. How is that fair?

Senate Bill 416 is now a combination of several anti-worker bills. It allows the Department of Labor to leave workers high and dry if their employer challenges unpaid wage claims in court. Under current law, the Department of Labor is there to defend unpaid wage claims under $10,000. But the proposed change would leave workers on their own. Workers would suffer the loss of wages and have to pay the legal expenses of trying to recover them. This proposed legislation is not only unfair to workers; it also puts ethical employers who do pay full wages at a disadvantage.

Senate Bill 416 also now contains a big change to unemployment benefits. It changes UI (unemployment insurance) law to treat earned wages (such as vacation time) as justification for delaying unemployment benefits. If you get a lump sum payout when you are laid off - regardless if that payout is for wages already earned - your unemployment benefits would be held back. The bill also lowers employer contributions to the UI Trust Fund at a time when the State is borrowing money (and paying interest on it) to pay benefits!

Leaders of faith communities are encouraged to talk with employees and employers in your congregation. Learn what your own faith tradition teaches about worker rights and workplace justice. Devote one or two adult education meetings to these conversations. Invite your representative, a member of the AFL-CIO and an employer to discuss workplace justice, contact Interfaith Worker Justice Kansas. We would be happy to help you find resources for your use.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right

Dean Baker is the Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. This article by Baker appeared on the Nation of Change website and is reprinted here in its entirety.

Getting Labor Unions to the Adult Table: Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right

Like many progressives I had hopes that President Obama could push the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) through Congress. There was no doubt that it would be difficult to get it through a Senate filibuster, but the support of a few moderate Republicans did not seem impossible. Passage seemed close enough that a bit of horse trading and arm-twisting could pull the bill over the line.

In reality, it turned out that it was not close. In spite of the best efforts of the labor movement and its supporters, the bill had nowhere near the votes needed to get through a filibuster. The issue was not just getting the few Republicans that would be needed to end a filibuster; the problem was that many Democrats in the Senate would not go near a bill that would make unionization easier.

In an environment of unrelenting employer hostility to unions, there can be little doubt that there needs to be some change in the rules if workers in the private sector are going to have chance of being able to organize successfully. As it stands, it is standard practice for employers to fire workers who are engaged in an organizing drive.

While such firing is against the law, the penalties are trivial. When it gets around to hearing the case, which could take years, the National Labor Relations Board can order that a worker wrongly fired be rehired. Workers wrongfully fired are also entitled to the difference between the wages that they would have earned on the job from which they were fired, and the wages they actually earned. This is often little or nothing. Imagine being fired from a job at Walmart that paid little more than the minimum wage.

Meanwhile, the firing is great strategy from the employers' standpoint. The troublemakers are gone. The union is shown to be impotent and the rest of the workforce conceals any possible interest in the union in order to avoid the same fate. It doesn't help much if the organizers get rehired a year or two later. Imagine that President Obama got to jail his opponent's campaign workers for the two months prior to the election, but had to release them the month after. That is the roughly the state of union elections in America today.

But EFCA got nowhere and it is not likely to get anywhere any time soon. There was very little public understanding of the issues involved. And one of the key demands, that workers could organize through majority sign-up rather than a secret ballot election (a situation that already exists at the discretion of the employer but not the workers), seemed undemocratic to many people who might have otherwise been sympathetic. If labor is to again be able to organize in the private sector, it clearly needs a new path forward.

This is where Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right by Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit (Century Foundation) takes off. This book is written from the perspective of two lawyers who recognize the importance of the labor movement to progressive change in the United States over the last 8 decades.

The book's key proposal is that workers who are trying to organize should be given the same sort of legal protection that African Americans or women enjoy against discrimination based on race or gender. This means that workers who are fired would get to sue in real court (not the NLRB) for real damages. As in civil rights cases, they would be entitled to collect attorney's fees from employers if they won their case.

Attorneys' fees are a huge deal, since it means that workers could afford to get lawyers in cases where it otherwise would probably not pay to hire a lawyer. As part of their suit, workers would also have the opportunity to engage in discovery, forcing employers to turn over documents about hiring union-busting consultants and to reveal discussions that might have led workers to exercise their right to seek union representation.

This is the sort of huge rethinking that is needed if labor and progressive politics more generally are going to have a chance to advance in the decades ahead. The current situation of labor is striking because the laws are incredibly tilted against workers in a way that even many progressives do not recognize. If workers violate the law, for example with a wildcat strike or secondary boycott, employees can go to court and get an injunction in hours.

Unlike the situation where employers fire organizers, the penalties for the workers in these cases are hardly a wrist slap. Leaders of the action face imprisonment if they defy an injunction. Any assets of the union can be seized, which could include any strike fund, bank accounts, even office equipment. Imagine if Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of GE, faced jail time every time the company violated a labor law?

If it ever was passed into law, Kahlenberg and Marvit's proposal would likely have substantially more impact on unionization rates than the EFCA, but more importantly the proposal has a greater prospect of gaining the sort of popular support needed for passage. The issues that motivated the EFCA required a knowledge of the specifics of union organizing that few people have. As a result, even people sympathetic to labor often did not support the bill. By contrast, the Kalhlenberg-Marvit proposal is rooted in a rights-based approach that should be more intuitive to the public.

The authors are not naïve in thinking that this reframing will cause a bill to magically sail through Congress and land on the president's desk. Employers will be every bit as forceful in opposing a bill that seeks to give workers this right to sue as they were in opposing ECFA. However, the big difference is that labor and its supporters are far more likely to be able to gain the popular support to overcome this opposition going the civil rights route.

This argument also helps to pull the argument away from a sort of loser liberalism story where the government is reaching over to help labor by letting them go to children's court (the NLRB) because it feels sorry for them. Instead, labor is seeking symmetry in the relationship with management. Employers get to take their grievances to real court; workers should have the same opportunity.

While Kahlenberg and Marvit did not invent the proposal that is the centerpiece of the book, they deserve credit for bringing it back to public attention in a forceful manner at a time when labor and the progressive movement more generally are desperately in need of new directions forward. This is a book worth reading and argument worth taking seriously.

Friday, March 9, 2012

HB 2437 Hearing--Voter Suppression--March 15

House Bill 2437 will receive a hearing in the Ethics and Elections Committee on Thursday March 15th. This bill will force Kansans to provide proof of citizenship documents before being allowed to register to vote starting in June. This hearing is a decisive moment in the fight against voter suppression. Use the three steps listed below to do your part in stopping this bill!

This bill poses major problems for our state this election year.
  • Grassroots voter registration including tabling at community gatherings, registering the elderly and disabled at care homes, and door-to-door registration will be impossible.
  • Voting for all Kansans will be more difficult. Those facing the greatest challenges are low income Kansans, women, and the elderly.
  • The administrative failures of voter ID at the DMV, KDHE, and the voting booths indicate that our state is not ready more restrictions. Rushing in to more stringent voting restrictions will distract officials from correcting the existing problems and invite additional complications. 

Take 3 simple steps to stop this bill

1.      Contact your area senator on the Ethics and Elections Committee RIGHT NOW!

A simple message of “My name is _________, and I am against rushing proof of citizenship for voter registration” would be a great contributing to defending voter rights.

Call the legislative hotline at 1-800-432-3924  and ask to speak with your area senator on the Ethics and Elections committee or email your area senator directly using the contact below

       2. Testify
      • To testify in person: Join Kansans from around the state in testifying next Thursday. The hearing will be held at 9:30 am in room 159-S in the capital which is located at 900 SW Jackson St, Topeka, KS. Contact Ellen Martinez, assistant to the Ethics and Elections Committee at 785-296-8621 and request time to speak. She will ask that you submit 30 copies of your testimony to her by noon the day before the hearing. Her email address is Representative Ann Mah has offered to print copies of our testimonies and deliver them to Ms. Martinez. Send your testimonies to be copied at
      • To submit written testimony: If you cannot attend the hearing you can submit written testimony. Email your written testimony to Ellen Martinez at requesting that it be included in Thursday’s hearing. Email Representative Ann Mah at and request that copies be made for the committee.

      3. Spread the Word
      • Forward this email to each of your contacts and ask that they do their part to defend voter rights in Kansas.
      • Invite your friends to sign this online petition:
      • Become a part of the movement and stay up to date on all of the latest news on voter suppression by liking KanVote on Facebook.

      Thursday, March 8, 2012

      Budgets are Moral Documents

      The Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs reminds us that state and federal budgets are moral documents. In "Faith Reflections on the Federal Budget" they identify three core values for analysis of budget priorities:

      1. Meet the needs of the most vulnerable. We must invest in programs that allow families to survive the recession and live in dignity by adequately funding social service programs that meet basic human needs and protect basic rights.

      2. Create economic opportunity for all. We must invest in programs that address the underlying causes of poverty by adequately funding high quality education, sustainable jobs and living wages.

      3. Demonstrate intergenerational responsibility. Leaving a legacy of rising debt, rising poverty and diminished opportunity is unacceptable. Adequate housing, access to health care and good nutrition are basic human rights.

      Proverbs 31: 8-9 urge us to "open your mouth"--speak up and speak out. Budgets are moral documents.

      For more information on the Domestic Human Needs budget visit this website:

      Monday, March 5, 2012

      Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 2012

      There will be a community worship service on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at Unity Church, 21st and Oliver, Wichita, at 7:00 p.m. honoring the ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, renewing our commitment to the Beloved Community that he saw. 

      Unity Church, Interfaith Worker Justice Kansas, Global Faith in Action, Sunflower Community Action, the AFL-CIO Wichita-Hutchinson Labor Federation are co-sponsors of this event. Other members of the faith community and community groups will be added to this list of as we receive confirmation of their participation.

      Please use the flier below as a bulletin insert in your place of worship. Become part of this Beloved Community in Wichita as you help spread the word and share in this time of renewal and re-dedication.