Monday, August 25, 2008

A Labor Day op ed or bulletin insert

This piece is generic down to the dotted line. The rest shows what we're doing locally in our region. The first two sentences of the next to last paragraph are also "generic".

LABOR DAY -- what is it?

The last holiday of summer? A commemoration of a vaguely understood history of labor in the USA, and the achievements of unions in bringing about middle-class standards of living, the 8-hour workday and the 40-hour week, and the end of child labor in our factories? An honoring of the human right of association, the right of workers to organize and bargain for better pay and better working conditions? Labor Day is all of the above, plus an affirmation of our faith commitment to Economic Justice, deeply rooted in our sacred scriptures.

In the Torah, we find mandates for worker justice, such as Deuteronomy 24:14-15: "You shall not withhold the wages of the poor and needy laborers…otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you."

In the words and deeds of Jesus and the letters of the New Testament, we find the good news proclaimed to the poor and specific admonitions, such as: "The wages of laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out…and have reached the ears of the Lord" (James 5:4).

The Qur'an reminds the community of Islam about its duty to promote fairness and economic justice for all people: "And O my people! Give just measure and weight, nor withhold from the people the things that are their due" (Quran 11:85).

Our faith traditions are united in honoring the dignity of labor. Our scriptures emphasize the importance of equity and justice in matters of wealth and work. They agree in insisting that the employer-worker relationship must be based on justice and mutual consent. This requires us to grapple with the problem of defining what is justice in employer-worker relationships in a society and world economy that’s very different from the societies described in the world’s great scriptures

On Labor Day, religious congregations across the country have an opportunity to reflect on these things, and to think about how our shared values might be more fully expressed in our economic life.


Locally, the Labor-Religion Coalition of the Capital District, as an affiliate of the NYS Labor-Religion Coalition and of the national organizations Jobs with Justice and Interfaith Worker Justice, offers congregations resources on faith-and-labor issues from various faith perspectives and also on current worker justice issues. IIn addition, in this "Labor in the Pulpits/on the Bimah/in the Minbar" program, the Coalition picks out, each year, one issue as its advocacy focus for Labor Day.

Since so many people are out of town in August and don’t have time to schedule Labor Day weekend programs, the Coalition is extending Labor Day into Labor Month. During all of September, the Coalition can provide speakers and materials on this year's Labor Day local advocacy issue, the Employee Free Choice Act. This bill is an attempt to remove obstacles to union organizing that have developed during recent decades. Naturally, it’s very contentious, which makes it a suitable issue to take up in adult study groups and “peace and justice” committees where the pros and cons can be argued out and worked through. Those who agree with the bill might want to sign a postcard in support of it.

So, for Labor Day and Labor Month, we ask you to pray for working people, especially low-wage earners and those who are exploited, both at home and abroad. Remember to ask questions about how workers are treated; speak up in support of working people who are seeking respect and a voice in their working situations. And call the Labor-Religion Coalition for a speaker and information on the Employee Free Choice Act. We’ll be distributing and collecting the postcards for the rest of the year, to give to the new president in January.

[The LRC of the Capital District is an independent coalition of congregations, labor unions, community groups, and individuals. Its focus is on the struggles of low-wage workers for justice, at the point of convergence of our faith commitments with the best values of the labor movement. For more information, contact Marjorie DeVoe, coordinator, at 482-5595 or]

LABOR DAY: Labor in the Pulpits

I had meant to post this last month. It's a message from Interfaith Worker Justice about planning a Labor Day worship service or other event that focuses on worker justice. Think about it for next year.

LABOR in the PULPITS, on the BIMAH, in the MINBAR

Planning a Labor Day Weekend service focused on worker justice issues

Organizing a service on worker justice over Labor Day weekend is a great opportunity for your congregation to recognize the sacred work of all its members and support low-wage workers’ struggles for justice. If there is a local Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) group in your area, that group can connect your congregation with a union member or labor leader who can talk about the connection between his or her faith and the struggle for justice in the workplace. Labor Day speakers receive special training and sample reflections to help them develop their presentations. Congregations organize Labor Day services on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday before Labor Day or special services on Labor Day Monday. (In some cases, congregations organize services, or reflect on worker justice issues, in the week or two after Labor Day.)

If there is not an IWJ group in your area, consider identifying a Labor Day speaker from your congregation or community or discussing workplace justice in the pastor’s homily. If there is an IWJ group but your worship service or congregation tradition does not accommodate outside speakers, you could use these speakers before or after mass or at adult or teen education classes, or your pastor could incorporate a worker justice theme into the worship service. Think creatively about how best to plan a Labor Day service that will provide support to those struggling for justice on the job and lift up everyone’s spirits in the process. IWJ provides a variety of worship resources that will help you plan a successful Labor Day weekend service.

If you are interested in organizing Labor in the Pulpits/on the Bimah/in the Minbar at your congregation, please sign up here so we can count you as one of the hundreds of congregations around the country lifting up worker justice issues over Labor Day weekend. Getting an accurate count will enable IWJ to publicize the faith community’s concern with worker justice in the national media, which will help bring worker justice issues to an even wider audience. Congregations and religion-labor groups organizing Labor in the Pulpits will receive a sample press release before Labor Day with the number of congregations planning to participate for use in publicizing the program locally.

Labor in the Pulpits/on the Bimah/in the Minbar is a joint project of Interfaith Worker Justice and the AFL-CIO.

If you have any questions or would like to brainstorm ideas for a Labor Day service, contact Renaye Manley ( at Interfaith Worker Justice, 773-728-8400 x15. You will find resources online.