Faith leaders ask candidates to give poor ‘living wage’

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Left to right, Rev. Sung Yeon Choimorrow, Rev. Michael Livingston, Rev. Andrea Alexander, Rev. Sekinah Hamlin, Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Rev. Dr. Ken Brooker Langston, Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, gather before Pope Francis' visit on Sept. 22, 2015, to ask the pope to acknowledge the plight of striking low-wage federal contract workers. Photo courtesy of Good Jobs Nation

Left to right, Rev. Sung Yeon Choimorrow, Rev. Michael Livingston, Rev. Andrea Alexander, Rev. Sekinah Hamlin, Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Rev. Dr. Ken Brooker Langston, Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, gather before Pope Francis' visit on Sept. 22, 2015, to ask the pope to acknowledge the plight of striking low-wage federal contract workers. Photo courtesy of Good Jobs Nation

(RNS) On the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., dozens of faith leaders are calling for the U.S. presidential candidates to include a “living wage” for low-income workers in their political agendas.

The move comes amid growing momentum for a wage hike and just days after state officials of New York and California acted to increase their minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“Today, we call on all those who are seeking the Presidency of the United States to honor the legacy of Dr. King and stand in solidarity with all people who are seeking to achieve racial and economic justice in our society,” they say in an “Interfaith Call for Moral Action on the Economy,” that will be publicly released on Monday (April 4).

“By helping our nation’s most vulnerable workers achieve justice at work, the next President can lift millions out of poverty and secure a brighter future for all Americans.”

The campaign is focused especially on low-wage federal contract workers who cook for senators, clean the offices of generals and sell souvenirs to tourists at the Smithsonian’s 19 museums and the National Zoo. They say most make too little money to adequately care for their families.

They seek wages of at least $15 an hour, improved benefits and the ability to organize without retaliation.

Joseph Geevarghese, director of Good Jobs Nation, said it’s appropriate for faith leaders to link the cause of these workers with the legacy of King. The civil rights leader died in Memphis, Tenn., where he went to support a racial and economic equality campaign for striking sanitation workers.

Jim Winkler, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, is among the religious leaders supporting the effort to seek a pledge from candidates to help the working poor.

“This election is fundamentally about whether the next president is willing to take transformative executive action to close the gap between the wealthy and workers — many of whom are women and people of color,” he said.

Supporters of the campaign call the U.S. “America’s biggest low-wage creator,” with more than 2 million jobs through federal contracts, grants and loans.

“When low-wage workers don’t make enough to provide for their most basic needs, it is not just an economic issue — it is a moral crisis,” said Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action.

The new phase of the ongoing campaign comes as fast-food restaurant employees plan to strike in 300 cities and other low-wage workers intend to protest on April 14.


RELATED STORY: COMMENTARY: An executive order with moral authority


Faith and labor groups worked together to encourage President Obama to make changes for low-wage workers. He has issued executive orders that call for raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 and giving paid leave to federal contractors.

Leaders of those groups hope the next president will expand on those measures.

Republican candidates Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich have not supported raising the federal minimum wage while Democrats support it. Bernie Sanders has pushed for a $15 wage and Hillary Clinton has supported increasing it from $7.25 to $12.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and leaders of the New York Legislature announced an agreement Thursday that will gradually raise the state minimum wage to $15 by 2021.

The California Legislature passed a bill Thursday that will raise the state minimum wage to $15 by 2022. Gov. Jerry Brown is scheduled to sign it on Monday.

(Adelle M. Banks is production editor and a national reporter for RNS)

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  • Sabelotodo2

    The tragedy is how horrendously misinformed these august faith leaders are! Wearing a clerical collar obligates one to know and speak the truth. Only a small percentage of minimum-wage workers are full-timers who depend solely on that income to support them. The idea that most are couples supporting families is a lie. Most are middle-class students and housewives earning additional income in families with much higher-earning breadwinners. Minimum wage is a starting wage. Those with anything on the ball get promoted quickly.

    The bigger item is what a $15-20-an-hour minimum wage would do to the entry-level job market. The major engine of new jobs in America is small business, and harnessing them with this horrendous extra expense will mean fewer jobs period.

    These hallowed ones should reacqaint themselvs with that powerful message of personal transformation, and drop the liberal politics.

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  • Thomas Didymus

    Minimum wage is yet another program through which government outsources its social services to the private sector. It isn’t the business of business to provide a decent standard of living for people. It’s the business of the state, through income transfers and social services.

  • Clifton Palmer McLendon

    The Constitution does not give the Federal government the power to prescribe wages, except wages for the military and Federal employees. Any Federal law purporting to tell private sector employers what to pay their employees is a blatant violation of the Constitution.

  • D.H. Fabian

    A misleading strategy of recent months referring to minimum wage workers as the poor. In fact, they are low-income. It is wrong to imply that the worst-off Americans can be is low wage workers. It matters because it serves to continue disappearing our truly poor. In real life, not everyone is able to work (health, etc.) and we simply don’t have jobs for all. The US shipped out a huge number of jobs since the 1980s, ended actual welfare in the 1990s. Today’s poor are those who have no incomes. We made real poverty permanent. Obviously, you can’t get a job without a home address, phone, bus fare. We have no mercy on our poor, those who are left out.

  • Thomas Ryscavage

    Increase minimum wage means some one looks good on T.V. but when the jobs disappear that person hides. This is not even symptomatic treatment. It is simply worsening of the problem. The answer is MORE jobs. With MORE jobs there will be a competition for the worker and the salary will go up. Get the government out of the job market. Stop their restrictions and absurd rules. So why are States like California, New York, etc. going to minimum wage raise? That is because the Democratic-Socialist Party wants to CONTROL you. They try to stop deductions to churches so that the government will take over giving the alms. Giving the alms ONLY to people who worship and vote for them.

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  • Debbo

    It appears that a small group of righties have pounced on this page. Or perhaps it’s 1 or 2 people with multiple email addresses.

    Of course it can’t be the businesses responsibility. It’s the employees or the government or the statistics lie. Right.

    At any rate, enjoy yourselves boys.

  • ben in oakland

    What you do unto the least of these, my brothers, you do unto me.

    Who said that? No one important, not to modern political Christianity.

  • G Key

    7 Old Testament verses about how to treat the poor:

    (1) ” ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God.’ ” — (Leviticus 23:22)

    (2) ” ‘For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, “You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.” ‘ ” — (Deuteronomy 15:10-11)

    (3) “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor, their righteousness endures forever; their horn will be lifted high in honor.” — (Psalms 112:9) …

  • G Key

    7 New Testament verses about how to treat the poor:

    (1) “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” — (Matthew 5:42)

    (2) “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” — (Matthew 10:42)

    (3) “Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ ” — (Matthew 19:21)

    (4) ” ‘They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.’ ” — (Matthew 25:44-46) …

  • G Key

    Proverbs 29:7: The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

    Matthew 25:44-46: “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

  • Jeshurun

    So that’s what its come to huh? Israel begging their Egyptian Kings on hands and knees! What a disgrace!

    Here’s an idea, be a shepherd and take it upon yourself ye of no faith!

  • Everett

    Therefore you (as well as I) be generous in giving to the poor. It does not necessarily follow that this is the job of the government.

  • Everett

    So the adage about giving a man a fish and him only eating for a day verses teaching a man to fish so that he may feed himself for life is out the window? Too complicated and hard that teaching to fish, better to simply give the man a fish on a daily basis.

  • G Key

    [The first half of “7 Old Testament verses” didn’t post when I tried to submit it yesterday. It continues here.]

    … (4) “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” — (Proverbs 14:31)

    (5) “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.” — Proverbs 19:17 (NIV)

    (6) “Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.” — (Proverbs 28:27)

    (7) “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” — (Proverbs 29:7)

  • G Key

    [The first half of “7 New Testament verses” didn’t post when I submitted it yesterday. It continues here.]

    … (5) ” ‘In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” ‘ ” — (Acts 20:35)

    (6) “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” — (1 Timothy 6:17-18)

    (7) “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” — (Hebrews 13:16)

  • G Key

    Regarding the oft-cited words attributed to Jesus by “religious” Republican politicians, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat”:

    This quote, according to II Thessalonians 3:10 (NIV), was said by Paul, not Jesus, and he was merely citing a previously-established rule, reminding his readers that he and his group had worked hard earlier, to ensure they “would not be a burden” to the Thessalonians.

    Paul wanted his representatives to earn their keep when they worked with strangers — not impose their own Christian burden on the very strangers they’re supposed to serve!

    In fact, the NIV’s cross-references from this particularly pithy passage powerfully point to “the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

    Bottom line: Does Paul’s rule sound like one that Jesus would palm off on the poor, or the disabled, or the elderly, or anyone else who must depend on the blessed for help?

  • G Key

    If charities, corporations, and private citizens acted responsibly, individually and together, toward those in need (feeding, clothing, sheltering, teaching, employing, caring for, and protecting the hungry, naked, homeless, uneducated, jobless, disabled, and vulnerable), then of course this critically important task would stop being “the job of the government”.

    However, reality demonstrates the hopelessly inadequate support and generosity of non-governmental sources.

    And since the government has a compelling interest in preventing its citizens from dying of starvation, exposure, etc., it must assume the life-sustaining duties which are so emphatically, consistently, and unconscionably rejected by those who are truly responsible, who somehow feel entitled to all of the benefits which flow like a river — for some — in our “Land of Opportunity”.

  • Everett

    You create a straw man by alleging a misquote by unnamed religious Republicans, and then tear it down. Someone may have said such, knowing who would help and not providing specifics does not help your case.

  • G Key

    Famously, Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN); Fmr. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN); and Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr., and son, Rev. Jonathan Falwell.

    I’m not alleging a misquote. I’m stating that at least these four Republicans have (ab)used II Thessalonians 3:10 in the context of “justifying” their advocacy for restricting or eliminating SNAP and other lifeline programs for the poor — as if to hold the poor rather than themselves (if anybody in this century) to Paul’s admonition.

    BTW, I make no claims to have the research & knowledge skills & resources of regular RNS commenters such as CarrotCakeMan or ben in oakland. However, this is hardly a “straw man” argument.

    My point in the above post was to address the fallacy of using this Bible verse to justify abdicating responsibility to those in need.

    I agree with you that providing for the poor is not the “proper” role of government — it’s the default role, as when the proper parties fail to fulfill their roles.

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  • Ben in oakland

    Thanks for the compliment. ?

    I think you are a very smart and compassionate man myself.

  • G Key

    Wow – Cool! That means a lot, coming from you. Thanks, Ben.
    88-)>>>