The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) director for public witness, this morning joined with workers and other leaders in the faith community, including Presbyterian minister the Rev. Michael Livingston of Interfaith Worker Justice and the Rev. Sèkinah Hamlin of the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative (formerly National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative), in an action of nonviolent civil disobedience to urge President Obama to improve jobs for millions of workers.
Together, workers and faith leaders asked the President to sign a Good Jobs Executive Order that will ensure that the federal government only does business with companies that pay a living wage and provide good benefits, follow wage, hour, and safety laws, allow workers to bargain collectively, and limit overspending on CEO pay.
Of his commitment to get arrested as part of the nonviolent action, Nelson said, “In the church, we believe in the inherent dignity of work and that God has called each of us to a vocation. Workers have a right to be compensated for their work with a fair wage that provides a living. One of the best ways improve jobs is to give workers the leverage to organize for better pay, working conditions, and benefits. We have allowed greed to perpetuate a class of working poor in this country, even though there is easily enough for everyone to have what we each need. Worker pay has stagnated while productivity and wealth have skyrocketed. This is our shared failure and it is a sin.”
Today’s action focuses on the shared conviction that God has provided enough for everyone. Nelson and other faith leaders, together with workers, surrounded a common table with shared bread for all. Clergy and workers then shared the bread among the crowd.
Nelson concluded, “We believe God has provided enough, and workers’ wages and compensation should reflect that reality. We need executive action from the White House that will set a federal precedent in the marketplace to strengthen jobs, workers, and their families. A job should keep you out of poverty, not trap you in it.”
This action follows up on the interreligious community’s successful campaign work with Good Jobs Nation that urged the President to sign an executive order requiring a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour for workers under new federal contracts.
In February 2014, President Obama signed the $10.10 executive order, which is a good start to restoring the quality of jobs in the U.S., but it is only enough to bring a family of four just above the poverty line.
Workers need living wages to support their families and the leverage to bargain collectively for fair pay and working conditions. With the stroke of a pen, the President can ensure that all federal contract workers receive fair and just compensation.
Of the action, Nelson said, “In our capitalist society, payday is always a good day. There is a sense of pride in earning a living and having the means to build a better life. For those of us who take a paycheck for granted, let us be reminded and in solidarity with those persons who, after receiving their paychecks, still cannot meet their basic needs, including food, housing, health and child care, much less a family outing for dinner or a Friday-night movie. Let us not forget the father or mother in despair, because there is never enough to make ends meet, even after working multiple jobs or overtime.”