Friday, October 19, 2012

Have the Adults Left the Room?

The following article was posted on the LivingNonviolence website on October 17, 2012. I am happy to reprint it here and to invite you to visit:

The Reverend Anton Jacobs, a good friend, recently wrote an article which he titled, “Tis the Season to be Outspoken.” In the article he wonders if perhaps we in the U.S. are not suffering from what he calls “cultural pollution.” He asks, “Have we so filled the air and our minds with lethal doses of vitriol that we have lost the capacity to think critically?” To paraphrase a prominent politician who has contributed his share to the verbal smog, “Have the adults left the room?” We seem to have reduced everything to a sports metaphor and made it all a game of winning and losing. Success is measured by ratings, opinion polls and money.

In this hectic U.S. political season words become missiles flying fast and furious with little regard for their accuracy and even less concern for so-called collateral damage. One vituperative barrage simply invites another as people compete for airtime, media attention and money. The exchange escalates as political candidates and their surrogates search for new and more compelling ways to sharpen their attacks and raise record amounts of money. The money does not “buy” votes. There is no quid pro quo. When politicians claim that their votes are not for sale, I believe them. They are voting their conscience. But that does not mean that money does not buy access and influence. It does. Politicians know what their major donors think about issues and they are sensitive to donor concerns when it comes to writing legislation. When it is time to cast their vote the politician votes his or her conscience, which has been formed and informed by what other people who know the issues and who are well- known say about it.

While I was thinking about the power of money in politics I found myself reflecting on a question that Chris Hayes posed on his Sunday morning television program, “Up with Chris Hayes.” On October 14, 2012, Hayes asked, “If money is speech when does free speech become coercive speech, and how can we tell the difference between them?” That is an important question, which he elaborated on with a series of follow-up questions. Suppose the boss tells the people who work for him which candidate he favors in the upcoming election and he encourages them to vote the same way? Is that free speech? Suppose he tells them that their future employment hangs on the outcome of the election? Has he crossed the line? Suppose he tells them that they must put their personal feelings aside and take the day off, without pay, and pose in a campaign commercial for the candidate he is supporting? The workers are told that attendance is mandatory and it will be taken. Is this free speech?

All of these hypothetical situations actually happened and Hayes documented each of them. The last scenario referenced a Mitt Romney commercial that featured blue collar union members who were obligated to pose for the picture with the candidate. Romney did not object. In fact he is smiling in the commercial. Which leads me back to the beginning, “Have we lost our ability to think critically?” Have the adults left the room?

When the cultural is so polluted by money and its coercive power what are we to do? My suggestion is that it is time to open the windows and doors and invite the adults back into the room. The Church Fathers (sorry, but the major writers whose work has come to us from this period were men) knew how to think critically and speak prophetically. From the second to the fourth centuries they wrestled with the problem of private wealth and its coercive power in the public square. They did not object to private wealth or condemn it. But they did insist that those who had such wealth bore a special responsibility; they had a moral and civic obligation to respect the human dignity and value the equal worth of others. More than privilege, wealth meant public responsibility and public accountability. These great scholars developed what one contemporary writer calls “a theistic ethic of ownership.” Ambrose, who became Bishop of Milan around 370 C.E., exemplified this ethic when he wrote, “Just as idolatry endeavors to deprive the one God of his glory, so also avarice extends itself into the things of God, so that, were it possible, it would lay claim to his creatures as exclusively its own—the creatures that he has made common to all.” (Charles Avila, Ownership: Early Christian Teaching, Orbis Books, 1983, 78).

With the passage of time the theistic ethic of ownership proclaimed by Bishop Ambrose and other spiritual guides of the Patristic Period was either forgotten or it became what Avila calls “an uncrucifiable generality.” In today’s culture of winners and losers it is one of the church’s best kept secrets; but it need not remain so.

David Hansen

Executive Director/Organizer
Interfaith Worker Justice Kansas

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

IWJ Kansas asks you to support IAM Local 639

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Local 639, are on strike. If you would like to contribute to their strike fund, make your check out to IAM, Local 639, and mail it to the Machinists Union Hall, 3830 South Meridian, Wichita, KS. 67217. If you are a member of a faith community, please take a special offering this Sunday to support the men and women who are on strike. Thank you.

The Wichita Eagle ran a misdirected headline today: “First day of Machinist strike causes traffic jam.” One would think from this that the traffic jam was the Big Story. Fortunately the article was better than the headline, but you had to go to page two. The company wants to eliminate the two HMO plans used by 80 percent of the workforce and add large increases to worker healthcare costs. It could cost workers—the people who actually produce the airplanes—who have chronic medical conditions or sick children hundreds of dollars a month—far more than the contract is offering. All workers would pay more for health care.

As I read the article in The Wichita Eagle (Oct. 9, 2012) it seemed to me that the company is offering the union its form of a medical voucher. The company will control costs by paying a fixed amount and shifting all additional expenses to the worker. I wondered if the management is being offered the same deal. The article did not say but it would be nice to know.

The article did identify one family with two children both of whom have chronic medical problems. One child has asthma and the other child is diabetic. Both parents also have medical conditions. They take 15 prescriptions a month. If the daughter with asthma needs to go to the emergency room under the new plan the parents will have pay $350 out of pocket plus 20 percent of the bill, instead of the fixed $100 under the current plan. The father, who has worked at Bombardier LearJet for 23 years, said that the new plan would bankrupt his family.

My colleague and friend, the Reverend Dr. Art Cribbs, who is the Executive Director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice in California, read about the strike and sent me a powerful email. Paraphrasing his message, he said that every person who lives in a wealthy nation like this should have health care—no questions asked about insurance coverage or ability to pay. Health care should not be a determining issue in contract negotiations. Health care is a right. The government should provide national health care for everyone. I agree.

Health care is a jobs issue. In economic terms since the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not provide universal health care this nation is at a comparative and competitive disadvantage. In order to compete in a global economy we need a level playing field, and this means we need universal health care.

So why don’t we have it? I believe that reason we do not have universal health care is because as a nation we favor corporate welfare over individual and family well-being. We need to change our priorities.

I am grateful to the men and women of IAM Local 639 for stepping out and standing up. We need to put people and families first. I hope you will join me in making a contribution to the IAM Local 639 strike fund. Send you contribution to IAM Local 639, IAM Hall, 3830 S. Meridian, Wichita, KS 67217. Thank you.

Rev. David Hansen, Ph.D.
Executive Director/Organizer
Interfaith Worker Justice Kansas  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Faith, Health Care and the IAM Strike

This Sunday morning people in the Wichita awoke to the news that 75 percent of the members of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union, Local Lodge 639, who work at the Bombardier LearJet plant voted to go on strike. The strike is scheduled to begin on Monday morning. I ask people of all faiths to hold the workers, the managers and their families in prayer today and throughout the coming days.

Based on news reports one of the sticking issues is the length of the contract. The union wants three years and management wants five years. The other issue is health care.

Survey data reports that health care is the second most important issue for likely voters in the 2012 election, trailing only the economy. Health care is also a core value for all faith traditions. All major faith traditions believe in human dignity and all advocate that adequate, affordable, accessible, proper health care as a basic human right. As people of faith we envision a society in which each person has proper health care. While there are differences among and within faith traditions, there is no disagreement that national health care is a basic right and health care reform is needed. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not have a national health care program, and until this is achieved we must do all we can to keep inclusive heath care available and affordable.

My own faith tradition, the United Church of Christ, draws inspiration from the well-known story of the Good Samaritan (the Gospel of Luke 10: 29-37), which it calls “a clear case for universal health care.”  The command of Jesus to follow the example of the Samaritan in this parable means that we cannot rest until proper health care is provided for everyone.

A recent online article by Eleni Towns, a Research Assistant with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress speaks to this issue. Her article, titled “The New Value Voters: Health Care,” is an excellent introduction for a congregational study on what different faith traditions advocate for health care— I am indebted to her for the following summary.

Faith communities have long been on the front lines when it comes to providing direct services, advocating for health care reform and providing a moral vision for it. Roman Catholic hospitals account for more than one-fifth of all admissions in the country. Muslim-run clinics in Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles serve all who come, regardless of the ability to pay. Several faith-based health care organizations around the country do the same. In addition, many congregations sponsor health screenings, nutrition education programs, and parish nurse or counseling services.

In 2009 members of Faith for Health, a coalition of more than 30 mainline and evangelical Protestant communions, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists came together to support the Affordable Care Act. In August of 2009 this same coalition sponsored a conference call with President Obama that included 140,000 people of faith.The coalition also sponsored visits to more than 100 members of Congress. In addition there were local campaigns and forums sponsored by faith communities around the country. In September of this year, 2012, more than 100 national and state faith leaders called on governors and state legislators to expand Medicaid programs to cover millions of low-income Americans.

Organized labor and faith communities are telling us that it is time to lift up the bottom line. In an era when our humanity is pitted against economic determinism and political fatalism we must come together and craft a new economic and a political policy that is not divorced from the daily reality of our lives and the welfare of our community. In the Preface to Mis-Measuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up (New York: The New Press, 2010), the former French President Nicholas Sarkozy writes, “We cannot focus solely on the data that market supplies us. By acting as though the market were the source of all truth, you wind up believing it.” While statistical indicators are important and indeed necessary, by themselves they do not and cannot give us a sense of meaning, responsibility and vision. Put otherwise, the market is not the measure of our well-being; our well-being is the measure of the market.

Now is the time to speak out and speak up for a health care system that reflects the values of human dignity, shared responsibility, compassion, stewardship of resources and concern for our neighbors.

Rev.David Hansen, Ph.D.
Executive Director/Organizer
Interfaith Worker Justice Kansas

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

After Sabbatical

I started my IWJ Kansas sabbatical on June 11, 2012 after a friend asked me to run for an open seat in the Kansas House of Representatives. I had not planned on doing either. But I did both.Reflecting on the past few months I can say that I am glad for the experience. It is an honor to be asked to run for an elected office. I am forever grateful to my family and friends for their support and encouragement and to the Kansas teachers' union, KNEA, for their endorsement. I learned a lot and I enjoyed going door to door. I got to know my neighbors and my neighborhood.

In addition to running for an elected office during my sabbatical I worked on a manuscript, attended a conversation with Father Roy Bourgeois who has been leading a campaign to close the School of the Americas for the last twenty-two years, met with leaders of the Communications Workers of America Local 6402 and learned about their efforts to bring overseas call centers back to the U.S. and to organize workers at T-Mobile, and I continued to develop IWJ Kansas.

My sabbatical officially ended yesterday when I went to stand with members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Local 639. This IAM Local represents 825 hourly workers at the Wichita Bombardier LearJet plant--the company's home office is in Montreal, Canada.These are the men and women who actually build the aircraft. They are the producers. They have been in contract negotiations with management for the last month. The present contract expires on October 8, 2012.

Reporter Molly McMillin wrote in The Wichita Eagle (Wednesday, October 3, 2012) that the management negotiators presented their proposal on the economic portion of the contract on Monday of this week.Union negotiators replied with a proposal of their own on Tuesday. Now IAM members are waiting for a response from the management.If progress is not made on the contract the union will take a strike vote on Saturday, October 6. According to McMillin, the company offer freezes current pension plans and replaces them with a 401(k). It also includes large increases in health care costs. And, it calls for an eight year agreement with no wage increases in the first three years and a one percent increase in each of the next five years. McMillin cited a management spokesperson who said that the offer reflects the slow market of the past few years and a pause in sales of the LearJet 60 business jet production caused by weakness in the global economy.

When I went to the company website I learned that while it is true that the global economic downturn has slowed the sale of business aviation jets and there was a pause in sales, potential investors should be optimistic about the prospects for future growth. Bombardier has 45 percent of the market and expects future sales growth. The company's 20 year market forecast anticipates that it will make 9,800 deliveries between 2012 and 2021, and a total of 24,000 deliveries between 2012 and 2031. Revenue, which was $139 billion between 2002 and 2012 will increase to $226 billion between 2013 and 2021 and climb to $382 billion for the period from 2022 to 2031. This suggests that the company's future is brighter than the contract offer implies.

The immediate issue for members of the IAM Local and company management is a contract agreement that will fairly compensate the people who actually build the jets--the producers--for their work in light of the company's anticipated future growth. In addition the management should be guided by public commitments that the company has made.

As I explored the company's website I was gratified to learn that it supports the United Nations Global Compact Initiatives.Principle 3 of the Compact recognizes the right of collective bargaining and commits the company "to maintain a constructive dialogue with labor unions." On its website the company also endorses the International Labor Federation Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights to Work. In its 2004 report, "Fair Globalization: Creating opportunities for all," the International Labor Organization (ILO) stated, "The rules of the global economy should be aimed at improving the rights, livelihoods, security, and opportunities of people, families and communities around the world"--World Commission on the Social Dimensions of Globalization (Geneva--2004).

Interfaith Worker Justice Kansas is a movement that brings together people of many faith communities and traditions, members of organized labor and people of good will who are prepared to raise moral issues and take action that will defend human rights and promote the common good. To borrow a phrase from the World Council of Churches, we want an economy that is in the "service of of life."

In closing I offer this prayer for today. Living God, you call us to fight for justice, to love kindness and to walk in solidarity with our neighbors (Micah 6:8). We pray that these sacred principles will guide our sisters and brothers as they negotiate a new contract that will bring together the producers and managers who work at Bombardier LearJet. We pray that they will reach an accord that will create an economy in the service of life and improve the rights, livelihoods, security and opportunities of all the people and the larger community. Amen.