UUs Support CIW for Justice in the Tomato Fields

by Rev. Allison Farnum of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Ft. Myers, FL

Unitarian Universalist congregations all along in Florida have been picketing with the CIW at Publix Supermarkets, delivering letters to the Publix managers that ask for Publix to come to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ table to talk about the tomatoes they buy. Documented cases of slavery have occurred in the fields of two large Florida tomato growers, 6Ls and Pacific. Publix continues to buy from both growers. Publix cites a policy that states they do not get involved in labor issues between those from whom they purchase and their employees. Since when is slavery a labor dispute?

Folks in our southwest Florida cluster congregations share that, when speaking with Publix employees, the managers themselves are disappointed that the corporate level will not cooperate. Even Publix employees on the front lines expect better of this corporation (the 4th largest privately-owned company in the United States, recently reported in Forbes Magazine) that claims it cares about its local community. As far as I can tell, Publix officials turning their backs on slavery in Florida tomato fields is far from caring.

Money talks. As Publix buys from growers that condone slavery in their fields, this giant supermarket chain is participating in a harvest of shame. This Sunday people of faith from Florida, Unitarian Universalists and all kinds, will gather in Lakeland, FL, home of the corporate headquarters, to send prayers of courage and caring to Publix. We will make our presence known as allies and supporters of the tomato pickers and stand on the side of love.

Working Faithfully for a Living Wage

When I attended my first Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign meeting after the 2004 election we were asked to raise our hands if we knew what the federal minimum wage was, and if we knew what the minimum wage was in our state. I was mortified that I did not know but felt slightly better seeing that many of the other denominational advocacy staff did not know either. The people in the room that did know were organizers from ACORN, Jobs with Justice, and the Let Justice Roll Living Wage organizers.

My experience was pretty typical for a middle-class, middle-aged, white person. I haven’t known what the minimum wage is since I worked for it myself as a teenager and later when I worked as a community organizer in low-income communities. (If my son was old enough to work after school I may have known!)

In any case, the experience demonstrated sharply for me how those of us doing advocacy work can get pretty out of touch with the realities of poverty and oppression in our country. I mean we know it exists, but start doing the math of living on $6.55/hour and it breaks your heart.

Through the UUA’s partnership with the UUSC on the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign, I have learned who low-wage workers really are and what they are facing.

Three out of four minimum wage workers are age 21 or older. Two out of three minimum wage workers are women. Most minimum wage workers are women with children. They are healthcare workers, childcare workers, food service workers. People of color and immigrants make up a disproportionate percentage of minimum wage workers. Most minimum wage workers are high school graduates. Many teenagers working in minimum wage jobs are working to save for a college education. The next minimum wage increase of $7.25 in July 2009 (the third and final increment of the legislation passed in 2007) will affect 10% of the workforce nationally, and close to 20% in several states, particularly in the south.

It would take a $10.08 minimum wage now to match the buying power of the minimum wage in 1968—four decades ago.

I’m proud that the UUA and UUSC are working in solidarity with low-wage workers and their families. Through our joint efforts we have connected with congregations already doing living wage work and encouraged others to get involved. Hundreds of UUs participated in the Let Justice Roll Campaign to raise the federal minimum wage for the first time in ten years in 2007. Now Let Justice Roll is working again to get closer to a living wage with another raise to $10 in 2010

UUA President Rev. William Sinkford’s Op Ed about the $10 in 2010 Campaign is inspiring and informative. It was run in several African American weekly newspapers over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and on several progressive websites. See Hope and Change for Low-Wage Workers.

I’m also inspired by what our congregations are doing. See reports on President Sinkford’s Living Wage Sunday at the UU Church of Nashua NH on Sunday, January 25th and

More Latinos, Children, Seniors, & Southerners in Poverty This Year Than Last

Every August, on what is unofficially known to policy nerds as “Poverty Day,” the U.S. Census Bureau releases its new statistics on poverty. These statistics track whether poverty rates have gone up or down over the last year, and reveal how particular demographic groups are faring. Check out this morning’s press release from the U.S. Census Bureau to see the new stats for 2007: Household Income Rises, Poverty Rate Unchanged, Number of Uninsured Down.

Although, as the Press Release title indicates, overall poverty percentage rates have remained relatively unchanged, the concrete numbers of Latinos, children, seniors, & Southerners living in poverty have gone up.

Although real median income for black and non-Hispanic white households rose, black households had the lowest median income in 2007 ($33,916), followed by Hispanics ($38,679). This compares to the median of $54,920 for non-Hispanic white households.

“Poverty Day” is a good time to ask oneself (and one’s representatives) why money is unequally distributed along race lines in the United States, and how that can be changed. Here’s some fuel for the conversation:

Persistent Race Disparities Found, by Stephen Ohlemacher. 11-14-08.

Racial Disparities, by The Urban Institute. 3-25-08.

Related Links:

The UUA’s webpages on the Living Wage Campaign

Why UU Service Committee Supports Living Wage $10 in 2010 Campaign

UU Resources for Economic Justice

Photo Credit – Olliehigh, Creative Commons.

Why UU Service Committee Supports Living Wage $10 in 2010 Campaign

by Johanna Chao Kreilick, Program Manager for Economic Justice, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

The July 24 raise in the minimum wage to $6.55 will help millions of workers deal with the rapidly rising price of gas, food, and other basic items.

Unitarian Universalists – working in partnership with Let Justice Roll – have been at the center of this upward trend toward economic justice. Your living wage organizing and advocacy — from Wichita to Atlanta, to Nashville and Tulsa is helping to make the difference for working families across America.

As leading members of Let Justice Roll, UUSC and the UUA are inviting your continued support and participation, beginning with a call to leaders of faiths across the nation to endorse a letter that will be delivered to the new Congress in January. In combination with the faith letter, Let Justice Roll is inviting congregations and organizations to join us in hosting a diversity of “Living Wage Days” services and community events across the nation January 10 and 11.

Learn more at Advancing the Fair Wage Movement > Stories and sign up to join other UUs in building a groundswell of support for a minimum wage that lifts people out of poverty and strengthens our families and economy.

As Dr. King said in Memphis in March 1968, “Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all of God’s children…Now is the time for justice to roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”