“February is shaping up as the cruelest month workers have known in decades,” columnist Harold Meyerson wrote in Wednesday’s Washington Post, referring to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to strip public employees of most of their collective bargaining rights and cut pay and benefits without any negotiation – and his threat to call out the National Guard if the state’s public employees go on strike.
But the assault on public workers is under way in multiple states. Bills that would in one form or another roll back labor rights and wage standards have recently been (or will soon be) introduced in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.
Amidst this onslaught, the Board of Directors of Interfaith Worker Justice today issued a statement that brings religious teachings to bear on the current national standoff. The statement, Stop Attacking Workers, reads:
Our religious traditions insist that workers, as human beings with inherent dignity, have the right to form associations to improve their conditions at work. Statements issued by a wide array of … faith bodies support the right of workers to organize and bargain with their employers over wages, benefits, and a voice on the job.
“Governor Walker’s bill is an affront to the human dignity of public sector workers,” said Rabbi Renée Bauer, Director of the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin. “As a religious leader I recognize this as a moral crisis. Jewish tradition makes protecting the weak from exploitation by the mighty, treating laborers fairly and recognizing their rights to organize a religious obligation.”
“My tradition is not alone in this call,” Rabbi Bauer said. “All religions believe in justice. Now is the time for all of us to live out our faith by raising our voices to protect the rights of workers in Wisconsin and throughout the country.”
Tennessee’s Legislature will soon consider bills that would curtail the rights of teachers and prohibit them from collective bargaining.
“Tennessee State Senators are trying to ram through legislation this week attacking school teachers,” said Rev. Jim Sessions of Interfaith Worker Justice of East Tennessee and a member of IWJ’s national board of directors. “They want to turn the clock back 50 years, when teachers had no right to organize and salaries were so low because the mainly female workforce wasn’t supposed to need much money, as they were provided for by their husbands. Those times are gone, teachers have won dignity on the job, and we need to move forward, not backward,” said Sessions, a United Methodist minister.
“Rather than pushing down standards for public workers, all workers should be valued and achieve respect at the workplace,” reads the Interfaith Worker Justice board statement, which concludes:
Using the state budget crisis as a pretext for ramming through anti-worker “Right to Work” laws and prohibitions on state worker representation is an affront to workers and to the faith principles of justice and fairness. The people who take care of our children and our elderly, build our roads and schools, teach our children, serve our food, attend our houses of worship, and work in our hospitals and industries deserve better.
The full text of the statement is available at http://www.iwj.org/index.cfm/stop-attacking-workers. Also see IWJ’s resource “What Faith Groups Say About the Right to Organize” (PDF).