Fighting wage theft on the community and parish level can be especially effective.
A big part of building any coalition is talking directly to people about their problems and really listening to them, said Jason Lowry, an organizer with the Valley Interfaith Project based in Phoenix.
"Once you figure out what the stories are, there are all kinds of ways you can pull together people who are willing to take action on it. It needs to be truly a grassroots effort."
Such actions also help congregations rethink their role locally, he says, and allow them to "reclaim turf."
Monica Dorcey, who has been a leader with Valley Interfaith Project for 15 years, recently worked with a network of churches in Phoenix to get more low-income people vaccinated.
In general, the basic tool for reaching people, according to Dorcey, is a neighborhood walk, going door-to-door, passing out flyers, setting up house meetings. "Even the ice cream lady who goes all over the neighborhood is involved. It creates a buzz in the neighborhood" as well as generating positive publicity, she said.
"If you don't rush through it, you can have a real conversation not just about what you're interested in, but about what else is going on. You can have opportunities for people to say what's on their mind," she said.
In the case of a topic like wage theft, "it's not something people readily talk about. You have to put yourself in a position where they can open up about it," Dorcey said.
If someone has complaints about some type of wage theft, the goal would be first to help the person "share their story in a clear, concise way." Then, she suggested, a delegation of parish members might approach the individual's employer.
"Say 'We don't expect our people to be treated that way. We respectfully ask you to rectify this situation.' Make it clear that this is something we're working on and we're not going away," she said.
If that happens, she added, "Word would get around. The church might become known as a place to go" to redress injustices.
[Photo Credit: CNS / Reuters / Mike Blake]
On This Labor Day, Advocating for Just Wages Means Fighting Company Theft, National Catholic Reporter [pdf]
In small group conversations organized through their congregations, Valley Interfaith leaders Elisa Alfaro of Holy Spirit parish and Dayra Campos of San Juan Diego kept hearing the same stories: workers in cold storage facilities earning less than the minimum wage and experiencing rampant labor abuse.
While the federal minimum wage is $7.25, parishioners shared that they are often paid less than half that by McAllen producers. When one company closed access to the bathroom for employees, they were forced to walk 10 minutes to a gas station for their bathroom break. Another parishioner shared constant threats by their boss if they were to admit working 10 hours per day for $600 per month (less than half the minimum wage).
In response, Valley Interfaith leaders are calling on the City of McAllen to ensure that no company that pays workers under the minimum wage, or is guilty of wage theft, receives incentives from the city. They are also calling on the City to investigate abusive labor practices. Leaders are now meeting with the McAllen Economic Development Corporation and McAllen City Manager about making these changes.
"Nobody should earn a slave wage," said Elisa Alfaro.
[Image Credit: KVEO footage]
Fair Pay a Distant Dream for Produce Packers in the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio Express-News
EPISO and Border Interfaith furthermore secured the support of Texas State Representative Mary Gonzalez, county commissioners, other Texas state legislators and the local franchise owner of Chick fil-A. Organizational pressure prevailed over lobbyists flown in from Austin to try to block the new law.Read more
Over the next 60 days, EPISO and Border Interfaith leaders will work with the city to consider amendments potentially granting additional powers to refuse to grant, or revoke, permits and licenses to wage theft violators.Read more
After DAI briefed the Dallas City Council on the need for a rest break ordinance to protect the health of construction workers, the Council took the step of charging the Economic Development Committee to work with stakeholders to craft an ordinance.Read more