In support of workers’ rights

Pretty much every week, I write a…something…for my church‘s weekly eNewsletter. Way back when, it was my take on a pastoral letter. Then some time along the way, I started thinking of it more like a newspaper’s opinion column. Now I suppose I think of it as a blog post. (‘Cause I’m all super fly Web 2.0 like that.) Anyway, most weeks, whatever I wrote for eNews also ended up here. Though usually in a slightly different form, edited for the more general audience that I hope is (could be someday?) reading here. It hadn’t really occurred to me before, but now I think it is high time for full disclosure about that. Over there it’s called The View from the Dance Floor. (Yes, there is a story behind the name. Remind me to tell it sometime…) Occasionally, when it seemed appropriate, I’ve subtitled my letter/column/post amalgamation Justice Advocate. This was one of those weeks.

We support the right of all public and private employees and employers to organize for collective bargaining into unions and other groups of their own choosing. Further, we support the right of both parties to protection in so doing and their responsibility to bargain in good faith within the framework of the public interest. – ¶163B Social Principles of The United Methodist Church 2009-2012

That’s right, friends; Justice Advocate returns this week in an attempt to offer you tools to aid your consideration of current events.

Why? Our Scripture and our tradition provide many reasons. Here’s just a couple:

In the Old Testament reading from last Sunday (Feb. 20), Leviticus 19, God commanded the people of Israel not to harvest their entire fields. “You shall leave the gleanings of your harvest for the poor and the alien.” And of course the lesson ends with those wonderful words that were the source of Jesus’ teaching: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

A couple weeks prior (Feb. 6), we heard from the prophet Isaiah (58:1-12) admonish God’s people. Isaiah, speaking on God’s behalf, told them (and, we believe, us today) no matter how pious their worship, God would not hear them or respond to them because “you oppressed all your workers.”

In other words, concern for the poor and taking care of others was built right into the Law from the very start!

As for tradition, The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church & Society (GBCS), the advocacy arm of The United Methodist Church, reminds us,

From its start with John Wesley, the Methodist movement has focused particular attention on the concerns of workers. Justice, dignity and equality for workers are an integral part of our social teachings and heritage. For 100 years, we have fought for a living wage in every industry and our Social Principles make clear that we believe people – not profits – should be at the heart of our economic system.

The GBCS statement on Labor and Worker Justice concludes,

As United Methodists, we are called to stand with workers – in our churches and communities – to ensure their basic rights are protected and their labor is valued.

Put all of that together and I think it is crystal clear why on Bishop Linda Lee of the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church wrote to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker asking him to reconsider his attempt to remove the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain. Our scripture, our tradition and our Book of Discipline all demonstrate the need for workers’ rights to remain in place!

Furthermore, Wisconsin leaders from the Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Presbyterian Church of USA, United Church of Christ, and the Episcopal Church joined Bishop Lee in that effort.

This debate among our neighbors to the north has generated a lot of media attention. Now it seems our neighbors to the east are considering a similar measure. Some of my hometown friends worry that our neighbors to the west will soon do the same. Will Illinois follow suite? We shall see…should make for an interesting spring!

Want to learn more about the intersection of Christianity, workers’ rights and budgets? Try these:

Interfaith call for a just and equitable budget

Thoughts from Sojourner’s

Religious Voices in Wisconsin from Huffington Post

Add your voice on behalf of workers’ rights with Faithful America

UPDATE: Just came across this very insightful post from Forbes’ Rick Unger further exposing just how duplicitous Wisconsin Governor Walker is being in this matter. Here’s a taste:

If the Wisconsin governor and state legislature were to be honest, they would correctly frame this issue. They are not, in fact, asking state employees to make a larger contribution to their pension and benefits programs as that would not be possible- the employees are already paying 100% of the contributions.

…While the governor of Wisconsin is busy trying to shift the blame to the workers in an effort to put an end to collective bargaining, the reality is that it was the state who punted on this – not the employees. Further, by the state employee unions agreeing to the deal proposed by Walker on their benefits (as they have despite Walker’s refusal to accept it) they are taking on much  – and possibly all – of the obligation out of their own pockets.

UPDATE 2: Today, Feb. 28, the Board of Church & Society tweeted: “What does the Church say about labor unions?” With this link on the main UMC site: Just thought I’d share the happy coincidence!

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