Workers’ Rights and the Church

By Karen Kulm.
Published on March 17, 2011

You’ve seen the slogans: “The weekend, minimum wage, Worker’s Comp, and the middle class brought to you by: The Union.”  You’ve also seen recent massive gatherings of union members and their supporters rallying throughout the country, particularly in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana.

The right to form, organize, or join a union is a fundamental and internationally recognized human right, listed in the 1948 United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights.  Yet our own nation’s laws provide weak protections for workers’ rights to form a union.  Laws are frequently violated and penalties to the employer are minimal.

We have recently seen in Wisconsin a state legislature and governor illegally taking away the collective bargaining rights of public employees.  (A Wisconsin judge issued a restraining order on March 18, blocking the contentious law from taking effect.)  Many local church leaders stood with the 85,000 people who protested in Wisconsin.

Multiple faith traditions insist that workers, as human beings with inherent dignity, may freely associate to improve their conditions at work.  Statements issued over the centuries by a wide array of faith bodies strongly affirm the right of workers to organize and bargain with their employers over wages, benefits, and a voice on the job.

General Synod 21 of The United Church of Christ (UCC) passed the “Resolution Affirming Democratic Principles In an Emerging Global Economy,” which affirms: “the heritage of the UCC as an advocate for just, democratic, participatory and inclusive economic policies in both public and private sectors, including… the responsibility of workers to organize for collective bargaining with employers regarding wages, benefits, and working conditions, and the responsibility of employers to respect not only worker rights but also workers’ dignity, and to create and maintain a climate conducive to the workers’ autonomous decision to organize.”

Our public workers did not cause our current economic crisis.  Cutting jobs of teachers, police officers, public health workers, bus drivers and others will not reduce state deficits. Stripping unions of collective bargaining rights will ultimately have a negative effect on families, communities and the economy.

I encourage you to be informed and take action.  Information is available at the UCC national website Justice Home Page under advocacy resources: http://www.ucc.org/justice/advocacy_resources/.  Interfaith Worker Justice www.iwj.org has many resources and a petition to “Stop Attacks on Public Sector Workers and Worker’s Unions.”  Many states, including those in the Central Pacific Conference (CPC), have been organizing protest rallies at their state capitols.

A call for a national day of action on April 4 has been issued.  On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, where he had gone to stand with sanitation workers demanding their dream: The right to bargain collectively for a voice at work and a better life. The workers were trying to form a union with AFSCME.  Beginning with worship services over the April 1 weekend, and continuing through the week of April 4, unions, people of faith, civil and human rights activists, students and other progressive allies will host a range of community- and workplace-focused actions.  Worship resources and information are available at the We Are One website: http://www.we-r-1.org/ .

Finally, the CPC Justice and Witness Team is sponsoring a resolution at the Spring Assembly in Portland, OR on May 20-21 titled “Resolution Affirming Workers’ Rights to Form Unions and Bargain Collectively.”

Karen Kulm, a member of Vancouver UCC, is a proud union member and active in various justice issues in her community.

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