COMMENTARY: For Labor Day _ `family values jobs’

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c. 1998 Religion News Service

(Kim Bobo is the executive director of the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice in Chicago.)

UNDATED _ In recent years, the religious community has talked about, preached about, and even sought to legislate family values.

This Labor Day weekend, many in the religious community _ Catholic and Protestant, Jewish and Muslim, liberal and conservative _ are reflecting on”family values jobs”_ jobs that can sustain families with dignity.

Labor Day has never been a religious holiday, but religious services held during the long holiday weekend provide the opportunity to lift up workers, celebrate work, reflect on the shared values between the religious and labor communities and highlight the importance of good jobs for sustaining families.

Families are under threat from a variety of sources, including jobs requiring parents to work very long hours, jobs that don’t pay workers enough to raise a family, or jobs that don’t provide family health care and pensions.

On this Labor Day, we need family values jobs.

Workers and their families need:

_ Jobs with salaries that can raise families. About 9.6 million U.S. working men and women did not earn enough in 1996 to lift their families above the poverty level, according to the Census Bureau.

_ Jobs with family friendly schedules. Workers need some flexibility for raising families and reasonable hours allowing parents to spend time with their families. And people who work multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet can’t give their children adequate attention, let alone attend religious services regularly.

_ Jobs that provide affordable family health insurance. Some 42 million Americans are without health insurance and 85 percent of the uninsured are workers and their families. There has been a decline in employer-provided health insurance for all workers since 1979.

_ Jobs that provide retirement security. Less than half of all private-sector workers have employer-provided pension plans. Only 29 percent of Latino workers have employer-provided pension coverage.

_ Jobs that allow workers to organize. Over 10,000 workers a year are fired for trying to organize to address workplace issues such as wages, benefits and working conditions. Employers spend $300 million each year to hire consultants and advisers to fight union drives. One study has shown that when workers choose to organize, 32 percent of private sector employers illegally fire workers who are active in organizing.

Throughout the nation, a new movement is emerging involving people of faith in ministries to create and sustain family values jobs.

In June the U.S. Catholic bishops issued a statement,”Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions,”reaffirming the central themes of the dignity of work and the rights of workers. The United Methodist Church has created a”Quadrennium on the Worker Taskforce”to help connect United Methodists with their worker roots, and the National Baptist Convention, USA, has developed the Labor Roundtable, which recruits clergy to play leadership roles to support workers in their communities.

In Los Angeles, the Jewish Sweatshop Commission is investigating worker conditions in that city’s garment industry and in Chicago, the Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues developed a Worker Rights Manual, which is used in worker rights training sessions in congregations.

As part of this new movement for family value jobs, each of us can help.

As people of faith who are employers, we can pay just wages with family benefits, even though the market might allow us to pay less. Our religious institutions should pay our janitors and secretaries, as well as our clergy, wages that can sustain their families.

As people of faith who are workers, we must use our gifts and talents wisely, and put in a fair day’s work for our pay. In return, we deserve to be paid fairly and treated respectfully.

As people of faith who are citizens, we must advocate for public policies to create and maintain jobs that support families with dignity, such as”living wage”ordinances, which require companies receiving city subsidies or contracts to pay”living wages”_ usually defined as between $7.50 to $9.50 per hour.

As people of faith who are community leaders, we must uphold the vision of family value jobs for all workers. We can do this by supporting initiatives to clean up sweatshops. We can work with business leaders to establish a new social compact for family value jobs. And we can support workers who choose to organize to seek a stronger voice in their workplaces.

As people of faith who support our actions with prayer, this Labor Day can become an opportunity to pray for justice in the workplace, and pray for improvements to the most basic of family values: jobs.

DEA END BOBO

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