Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A New Day at New Era

Last week, IWJ joined workers at the New Era Cap Company in Mobile, Alabama in a prayer vigil. Workers at the facility voted for union representation with the Teamsters Local 991 earlier this year. During the organizing campaign, 25 of the 111 workers lost their jobs. The workers were notified Thanksgiving week that 35 additional workers would be laid off. New Era workers in Mobile were joined by local clergy, representatives from the NAACP, and the Teamsters.

As the Working Families Network (WFN) puts it on their website:

In retaliation for workers' desire to choose a union in order to end racial discrimination and improve poverty-level wages at New Era's Mobile, Alabama, plant, New Era is terminating scores of workers. On Monday, November 19, New Era Cap Company Inc. will announce their decision to lay off 35 permanent employees at their Mobile Distribution Center. Out of the 35 to be laid off, only 15 will be called back to work. This kind of layoff is unprecedented at the Mobile facility, and comes in the midst of a critical labor dispute between New Era Cap and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Tell New Era to play fair with their employees. No holiday firings. Chris Koch - Global Vice President of Human Resources 716-604-9000.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Worker rights and Islamic law

IWJ is partnering with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) on a trailblazing effort involving workers’ rights, Islamic investment law, transnational social justice organizing, and the morally unacceptable labor practices of a multi-billion-dollar real-estate company.

The Indianapolis-based HDG Mansur, which also has offices in London, Dubai and New York, is making international financial headlines by declaring itself Shari’ah-compliant. But the shabby treatment of the janitors who work in Mansur’s Indianapolis headquarters raises serious and troubling questions — for worker justice as well as the integrity of Shari’ah compliance.

IWJ sponsored a delegation to London November 6-8 to call attention to these ethical issues. The delegation included a Muslim scholar representing ISNA, an African-American janitor currently on strike from her job cleaning at Mansur’s Indianapolis headquarters, and a staff person from IWJ. They teamed up with members of the UK Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU-Unite) and British trade union and community leaders to raise awareness about Mansur’s business practices.

The widely-read London-based newspaper The Guardian ran an article about the issue in its November 13 edition. Alas, it's not on the newspaper's website, but a truncated version can be found on the Irish Times.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Sanctuary Cities Under Fire

As the Iowa primaries near closer, Republican presidential candidates are engaging in heated debates over immigration. Of particular note, the candidates are attacking sanctuary city policies arguing that federal funding should be denied to any cities with sanctuary policies in place.

In addition, state and federal lawmakers are proposing crackdowns on sanctuary cities. Measures to adopt anti-sanctuary laws are pending in Michigan, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. The Florida legislature has introduced an anti-sanctuary measure last month, and Colorado passed an anti-sanctuary law last year. These policies would require local police to enforce federal immigration law, and encite fear in many immigrants to not seek police protection.

These anti-sanctuary policies would make enforcing immigration law a local and state priority, which is and remains a federal responsibility. Having immigrants fear local police would undermine local enforcement and community safety.

As Detroit City Council President Ken Cockrel Jr. said, "I want Detroit police officers out there catching people who are stealing cars and mugging old ladies, not asking people for their passports."

Friday, November 2, 2007

Department of Labor Worsens Plight of Farmworkers

Interfaith Worker Justice just became aware of new rules that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Labor (DOL) want to propagate in order to help agribusiness hire more guest workers to harvest crops. The rules, which were crafted with input from farm operators but none from farmworker unions or advocates, would eliminate existing rights under the H-2A visa program for agricultural workers and worsen already deplorable labor conditions.

IWJ has drafted a letter to DOL Secretary Elaine Chao and is gathering signatures for the letter from religious leaders. Here is the text of the letter:

November 8, 2007

Dear Secretary Chao,

We write to you with concern for the rights of farmworkers in the U.S. The Departments of Labor and Homeland Security have plans to propose new rules to relax regulations concerning pay, housing, and other issues under the H-2A temporary foreign worker program, according to recent stories in the New York Times (“U.S. Seeks Rules to Allow Increase in Guest Workers,” Oct. 10, 2007) and the Los Angeles Times (“U.S. lets in more immigrants for farms,” Oct. 7, 2007). These rules are intended to address the reports of a labor shortage caused by increased border security measures and worksite immigration and enforcement, as well as the allegedly cumbersome H-2A visa process.

As people of faith concerned about maintaining adequate standards for all workers, we question this rush to relax regulations and government oversight in the interests of profitable agribusiness associations and farms. Moreover, these rules would go against the express mission of the Department of Labor to promote workers’ welfare and improve work conditions.

The H-2A program as it exists contains some labor protections, which, while inadequate, must not be compromised. For instance, the requirement that employers must advertise for jobs and keep them open to U.S. citizens until 50% of the season has elapsed provides an opportunity for citizens and legal residents to work in this industry, without a mere assertion by growers that no non-immigrant workers are available. The H-2A program also contains wage protections, which not only protect guest workers from exploitation but also help prevent U.S. wages from being undermined and U.S. workers deterred from taking jobs in agriculture. The Administration should not consider lowering the wages and benefits required of employers who claim they cannot find enough workers.

Rather than administrative rule-making that worsens labor conditions, the administration should support the AgJOBS legislation, a bipartisan bill that was the result of difficult but productive negotiations between the agricultural industry and farm workers unions. The bill is a package that includes a reasonable path to legalization for agricultural guest workers, while helping to ensure an adequate supply of labor to farms and balanced changes to the H-2A program.

As people of faith, we are called to uphold the dignity of every worker and every human being. We urge you to work with us in asking Congress to pass the AgJOBS bill and in ceasing to consider rules that would lead to greater exploitation of farm workers in the United States.

We thank you for your consideration of this important matter.

For a list of signatories, and more information about this issue, please visit the IWJ web site.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Fed Up with FedEx: A Report by American Rights at Work

The groups American Rights at Work and Leadership Conference on Civil Rights recently reported on FedEx Ground's misclassification of its drivers as "independent contractors," which denies their civil rights and workplace protections. Here is their summary and a link to the report.

When is a FedEx worker not a FedEx employee? When it benefits FedEx Corporation. In a new report, American Rights at Work and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights document the widespread use of employee misclassification at FedEx Ground, which denies workers’ fundamental civil rights and workplace protections.

Fed Up with FedEx: How FedEx Ground Tramples Workers' Rights and Civil Rights takes on FedEx Ground’s claim that its nearly 15,000 drivers are independent contractors and not employees. These drivers often face long hours, no benefits, and no control over their work, yet lack basic protections from labor and employment laws to address their working conditions. FedEx Ground is a striking example of corporate America’s use of troubling labor practices to deny workers their rights and dignity. When FedEx Ground drivers attempt to form unions, they are subject to intimidation, interrogation, and firings, according to federal charges. Court cases filed by drivers allege workplace discrimination and harassment, including racial and ethnic slurs.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Kim Bobo on Alan Wolfe

The October 21st New York Times Book Review carried an essay by Alan Wolfe titled "Mobilizing the Religious Left." It's a review of Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century: The Classic That Woke Up the Church, a new volume celebrating and reflecting on Walter Rauschenbusch's Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907), a book that inspired the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

IWJ Executive Director Kim Bobo wrote the following response to Wolfe's essay and sent it as a letter to the editor of the New York Times, which hasn't published it (but now we have).

In his essay "Mobilizing the Religious Left," Alan Wolfe ignores the breadth of religious activism fighting poverty and economic disparity by offering unsubstantiated claims of what issues people care about and broad critiques of the theologian Walter Rauschenbusch. Wolfe boldly and wrongly claims, "In a democracy, the people choose the questions they want to discuss, and in our time more of them want the religious spirit to concern itself with abortion and homosexuality rather than race relations or a just wage." He's flat out wrong.

An October 2005 Pew Research Center survey found that almost half (48 percent) of Americans believe that American society is divided between the "haves" and the "have-nots." In another Pew survey in July 2006, asking about what social issues churchgoers hear about from the pulpit, by far the top issue was hunger and poverty. A whopping 92 percent of churchgoers have heard their pastors speak out against hunger and poverty from the pulpit. Over 80 percent of Americans, including all major Christian, Jewish and Muslim organizations, supported an increase in the minimum wage. These same religious bodies at the local level have led the 100 plus local living wage campaigns and are leading local efforts to challenge janitorial firms, laundry firms, poultry plants, waste companies and dozens of other industry leaders to pay living wages and family benefits.

As important as Rauschenbusch is to social thought, I daresay that few religious leaders are engaged in just wage issues either because of what he said or didn't say. People of faith are engaged in challenging economic injustice because all our faith traditions' sacred texts condemn greed and advocate just treatment of workers. The teachings, combined with their own faith journeys of seeing poverty in their congregations, propel their actions.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A new movement for the 8-hour day?

The Nation had an interesting article today about Americans’ steadily increasing workday and workweek. Since health care and other benefits are costing more and more per worker, companies would rather force workers to work overtime than hire more workers. Union members often have protections against mandatory overtime, but those without the protection of a union contract can be forced to work 12 or more hours a day. This is a problem not just for workers and their families but also for patients in hospitals in which nurses are working 12+ hours a day, and for drivers on the road when truckers have been driving for more than 10 hours.

I wonder what kind of effects increased hours have on participation in religious congregations. I've certainly seen people drop out of my church after they were forced to work longer hours. After 50- or 60-hour weeks on top of family responsibilities, not many people have time to get involved in their church, synagogue, mosque, or other community institutions. It's time to re-build the movement for the 8-hour day.

Climate of Fear in Virginia

I want to alert readers to the growing climate of fear being perpetrated in Virginia as local officials have gone on an offensive against immigrants. With several counties approving policies to root out and drive out illegal immigrants, there is even an exodus from certain areas. People--documented and undocumented alike--are leaving behind homes, jobs, and lives, to escape the persecution they see coming. The Washington Post has been covering these events in detail.

Prince William County council has approved a measure requiring county police to routinely check the immigration status of criminal suspects, including those stopped for speeding or other violations. As a result, many Latinos are fleeing the area and its climate of fear. Prince William, Fairfax, Loudon, and other counties are also interested in finding ways to deny services to illegal immigrants. Herndon closed a worker center popular among workers, neighbors, and business, rather than allow undocumented workers to utilize the service. This open hostility to an entire set of people, simply as a result of their immigration status (and of course not-so-covert racism) is extremely troubling.

Meanwhile, throughout the state, as a new poll suggests, a strong majority of Virginia state residents believe illegal immigration is a problem in the state, although transportation and the state economy rank as the biggest issues facing the state. Republicans (and a few Democrats) in races for local and state positions have not hesitated to pick up on this pervasive sentiment and are wielding tough anti-immigrant policies as a primary campaign plank. This has been seen, for example, in the Fairfax county race for Board of Supervisors Chairman.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Interfaith Worker Justice & the Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal isn't high on the list of publications where one would expect to see Interfaith Worker Justice featured prominently. But, sure enough, the October 16 issue carried an article titled "The Rise of the Religious Left" by Steve Malanga, a Senior Fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute. (The article is no longer available on the Wall Street Journal's website but can be found on the Manhattan Institute's website here.) The article was in fact adapted from a longer essay that appears in the Autumn issue of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal under the title "The Religious Left, Reborn."

IWJ Executive Director Kim Bobo sent the following letter to the Wall Street Journal, which has thus far not published it.

Steven Malanga’s “The Rise of the Religious Left” (October 16, 2007) ignores the depth of religious concern for and teaching about hunger and poverty. Ending poverty is a faith question — witness the thousands of congregations that provide food and shelter for poor people. The new emergence of a faith-led effort around raising wages, benefits and working conditions reflects the maturity and sophistication of the religious community’s fight against poverty. This is not a left-wing matter. This is a faith matter.

Although I greatly respect the philosophers mentioned in the article, Minister Rauschenbusch and Monsignor Ryan, most religious leaders are not involved because of them, but rather because of the reading and understanding of their own sacred texts and teachings and their concrete experiences with low-income families in their congregations.

The religious leaders I know do not “blindly refuse to acknowledge” academic research on rising wages, but rather understand that those who oppose raising wages and benefits for low-wage workers have historically trotted out studies to “prove” that we would all be better off accepting poverty-wage jobs. Over 80 percent of the American public, including most people of faith, supported raising the minimum wage.

Kim Bobo
Executive Director
Interfaith Worker Justice

If you'd like to write your own response to Malanga's essay, go here and click RESPOND TO ARTICLE. Feel free to cross-post your response here (copying and pasting the same text) by clicking "comments" just below.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

No Match Negatively Affects ALL workers

SSA No Match, heightened immigration enforcement and lax labor law enforcement has created a perfect storm for unscrupulous employers. Ballco is the perfect example of what employers are getting away with under this administration.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Event Highlights Problematic Anti-Immigrant Rule

On October 11, Interfaith Worker Justice co-hosted an exciting event in Baltimore. Faith and labor leaders, as well as local community groups, gathered at St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church in the Baltimore area to speak out against a potentially devastating government rule that threatens the jobs of millions of workers. One hundred people participated in the event. Our co-hosts included CASA of Maryland and Change to Win.

The government rule in question concerns so-called “no-match” letters and would require employers to take action that could result in mass firings. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proposed that Social Security Administration (SSA) no-match letters, which notify employers of a discrepancy in a worker’s Social Security record, also include a notice from DHS.

The notice concerns a proposed rule, that, if enacted, would require employers to resolve a mismatch with SSA records within 90 days. If they do not do so, they must fire the employee or face stiff penalties. This is a blatant abuse of the Social Security system and a threat to the jobs of millions of workers.

Furthermore, unscrupulous employers could use the letters as a pretense to fire workers who are involved in a union organizing campaign or who are otherwise unwanted. Some may simply fire those who “appear” foreign, assuming they are undocumented. Interfaith Worker Justice strongly opposes the proposed DHS rule.

The DHS rule aims to crack down on undocumented workers, but would affect millions of documented workers and U.S. citizens as well. In fact, 70% of discrepancies in the SSA database belong to U.S. citizens. The SSA has said it is ready to mail 140,000 letters, which will affect 8 million employees.

On October 10, a federal judge in San Francisco issued a preliminary injunction against the proposed rule. Read about the ruling here and here.

The event
Following a short talk by IWJ policy analyst Liz Weiss explaining no-match letters and the importance of the injunction, we heard from Rep. Tom Hucker of the Maryland House of Delegates and Maria Welch, President of the Baltimore Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. They pointed out the flawed, slow no-match system—in which 70% of errors are related to U.S. citizens and resolution can take 6 months. Witold Skwierczynski, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees (the union that represents SSA workers), stressed the lack of resources on the part of SSA employees to deal with an influx of people responding to letters. He decried the use of civil service agents as immigration police.

We also heard from labor representatives, including the United Food and Commercial Workers, which played a moving video concerning the deplorable immigration enforcement raids at Swift company plants nationwide in December.

Sekou Siby, an organizer at Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY) (a member of IWJ’s Workers’ Center Network), spoke about the potential harm SSA no-match letters would have on the restaurant industry.

Other prominent speakers included Corey Saylor, Government Relations Director of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who pointed out the need to have a national immigration policy that starts with treating everyone as a human being.

Panravee Vongjaroenrat of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) talked about the important work her organization is doing to provide legal counseling to immigrants and their families.

Finally, Rev. Jarvis Johnson, who sits on IWJ’s board of directors, put forth a call to action. He gave an impassioned speech about the importance of bridging what is referred to as the “brown-black” divide between the Hispanic and African-American communities, and invited everyone in attendance to sign a letter to Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue.

Following the event, 14 religious leaders visited the Social Security Administration headquarters just a few blocks away from the church. We successfully delivered a letter to a member of the Commissioner’s staff. Other delegations also visited SSA regional offices across the country to deliver similar letters.

Many religious leaders who attended the community hearing met to discuss how we can work together in defense of immigrant workers’ rights. While the lack of comprehensive immigration reform in Congress has left the U.S. without national immigration policy, this presents an opportunity to overcome what is perhaps our greatest challenge: to change the hearts and minds of Americans concerning immigration, to end the vitriolic nature of the national policy debate, and to humanize the issue. Interfaith Worker Justice and the other groups in attendance will continue to work so that people of faith come together in defense of immigrant workers’ rights.

If you want to learn more about this issue, please see our report For You Were Once a Stranger.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Rabbi Marx Documentary Online

On September 24th, IWJ celebrated the 80th birthday of its friend and past Board President Rabbi Robert J. Marx. The celebration dinner was a wonderful occasion. More than a hundred people came together to honor and celebrate Rabbi Marx and his legacy. The event helped raise over $25,000 for the Rabbi Marx Future Leaders Fund.

Among the highlights of the evening was the screening of a short documentary, A Practical Faith: Rabbi Robert Marx. Directed by Dorothee Royal-Hedinger, the film is a marvelous homage to Rabbi Marx's life-long dedication to justice. You can watch the whole thing by going here.

Our thanks go out to Dorothee Royal-Hedinger and Hassan Ali of Fresh Cut Media for their hard and swift work on this film, as they do to Rabbi Marx himself and everyone who helped put the celebration dinner together.

Contributions to the Rabbi Marx Future Leaders Fund are still very much welcome.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Powerful New Documentary on Immigrant Workers

Some of you may have seen the documentary Made in L.A., a poignant, moving chronicle of the Los Angeles Garment Worker Center’s campaign against the clothing retailer Forever 21, when it aired on PBS in early September.

But in case you missed it, you can now order the DVD. And it’s well worth doing: Made in L.A. is as powerful a documentary on immigration, labor and social change as I've ever seen.

Proceeds from sales of the DVD go to supporting a year-long outreach campaign to bring the documentary to audiences across the country.

Monday, October 8, 2007

We Need a Moral Crusade

We need a moral crusade. That’s how noted journalist and author Barbara Ehrenreich approached ending the poverty of low-wage workers in the U.S. At a recent event at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC, experts explained how our national policy is failing low-wage workers, leaving them in poverty and unable to afford basic necessities such as housing, food, child care, health insurance, and more. There are federal programs to help the working poor afford these and certain other essentials (dubbed “work supports”), but the system is antiquated and grossly inadequate. The speakers outlined a plan to improve and strengthen the system as part of a broad anti-poverty agenda.

Ehrenreich then asked the room, “How do we get this enacted?” Her answer was “a moral crusade”—much, she said, as the living wage movement has done by framing the issue of low wages as a moral issue. That is, it is immoral that a worker can work full time in this country and still live in poverty. Interfaith Worker Justice wholeheartedly agrees. We have been a leader in the living wage movement nationwide, through the coalition Let Justice Roll, and we will continue to use the voices and moral authority of our allies in the faith and labor communities to improve the wages, conditions, and lives of low-wage workers.

(Special thanks to Barbara Ehrenreich for her permission to use her comments on this blog.)

Friday, October 5, 2007

Sanctuary struggle in a California town

Anti-immigrant sentiment is running high in Simi Valley, California, located about 100 miles north of Los Angeles County. On Wednesday, October 3, 2007, Mayor Paul Miller sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, requesting that DHS intervene in the current dispute between the Simi Valley City Council and a local parish, the United Church of Christ (UCC Simi).

The UCC Simi is providing sanctuary to Liliana, a 29-year-old woman who has three children who are U.S. citizens, and husband who is also a U.S. citizen. Anti-immigrant organizations such as Save Our State, No More Revolution, and White Revolution led protests on September 16, 2007, outside the Simi church, threatening to have Liliana arrested and deported.

In order to maintain the peace, the city (not the church) called in police protection. Mayor Miller then ordered the Simi Church to pay the $40,000 bill for city protection, despite the fact that the church led no counter-demonstration nor engaged in any type of protest in response.

Mayor Miller has approached DHS before and will continue to seek federal action to deport Liliana and break apart her family.

Please call Mayor Paul Miller at 805-583-6700 to let him know that White Supremacist groups are at fault for the disturbance, not the church. Rev. June Goudey, minister at UCC Simi, pointed out that six days a week are very peaceful in the congregation/sanctuary. Only on the days that Save Our State, No More Revolution and White Revolution are there (outside Sunday services) is there any noise.

YouTube video of Liliana’s story

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Immigration Raids Out of Control

Today’s New York Times editorial, “Stop the Raids,” brings attention to an immigrant enforcement system that terrorizes communities and families while doing nothing to increase public safety. Increasingly, agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) are undertaking mass search and seize operations at workplaces, community malls, and private homes, supposedly looking for individual gang members or people suspected of crimes. In Nassau County, Long Island, the agents came in the middle of the night, some actually wearing cowboy hats, invading homes of citizens, legal residents and immigrants with no criminal record, while pointing automatic weapons and spreading terror. ICE agents even pointed their weapons at Nassau County law enforcement officers, and public officials in Nassau vowed to stop cooperating with ICE.

Last December, ICE raided six Swift meat packing plants and arrested hundreds of workers on the day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a religious holiday of enormous significance for most Latin American immigrants. Everyone was rounded up and hundreds were detained and separated from their families in the days before Christmas. The United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents these workers, held a rally against ICE raids in Chicago in September and announced a lawsuit against ICE for trampling on individual rights in these raids. Around a dozen Swift workers testified, including several African American citizens held on suspicion of not having proper papers. All shared stories of violations and terror, including women who were body searched by male agents. One woman testified that as she came off the killing floor, she went into a room with dozens of agents pointing weapons at her, and thought the plant had been taken over by terrorists.

Friday, September 28, 2007

UAW-GM: A more holistic perspective

IWJ Executive Director Kim Bobo wrote a letter to the editor in response to a September 26 Chicago Tribune editorial titled “Striking Failure” but the newspaper chose not to publish it. (While the paper has limited space in the printed version, they post numerous letters on the “Voice of the People” page of their website.) In her letter, Kim highlighted the need to address the national health care crisis as a way to save manufacturing jobs.

They did print one letter, which stressed the problem of executive greed, noting that the UAW president’s total compensation is $158,530 while GM’s chairman and CEO rakes in an excess of $10 million.

Here, so as to salvage it from the memory hole to which it would otherwise be consigned, is the letter Kim submitted:

Today’s editorial (“Striking Failure,” September 26) on the United Auto Workers strike (now halted) against General Motors presents a one-sided and inaccurate picture. The company, not the union, is to blame for not investing in new fuel saving technology and designs that would make its cars competitive. The nation's leadership is to blame for its failure to address the national health care crisis (which makes cars more expensive to produce) and to create a plan for preserving and investing in manufacturing jobs, not the union.

The “settlement that would shift retiree health-care obligations off the company balance sheet,” which the editorial breathlessly characterizes as “groundbreaking”—even “revolutionary”—is hardly flawless. In a far more sober assessment, The Nation magazine describes GM’s plan as an effort to “discharge its benefit obligations onto a poorly funded trust vulnerable to market fluctuations that the union will have to underwrite to a significant degree.” If this sounds a lot like the Bush administration’s proposal to privatize Social Security—which fell flat on its face when it proved wildly unpopular with the public—that’s because it’s based on the same bad ideas.

Although the strike has now been called off and a tentative agreement had been reached, the issues that led to the conflict remain very much unresolved. We need companies that invest in technology and commit to finding new ways to employ U.S. workers. We need a national health program that makes American industry more competitive. And we need a plan for creating and preserving good-paying manufacturing jobs.

The readers of the Tribune’s editorial page deserve a more holistic perspective on such important issues.

Kim Bobo
Executive Director
Interfaith Worker Justice

Monday, September 24, 2007

Workers organize in Mobile

For the past couple weeks, I’ve been talking to some folks in Mobile, Alabama, about a campaign by 111 workers at a factory owned by New Era Cap Company. The workers organized a union in response to conditions they reported including low wages, forced overtime, and racial discrimination against the predominantly African American workforce. However, over the course of the organizing drive, 20 workers were fired, and the company is refusing to negotiate a just contract with the workers.

I’m amazed at the courage of these workers, who are continuing to organize despite this intimidation and harassment. Several ministers have already begun to get involved by showing up at the workers’ organizing committee meetings to offer prayers and support. I’m going down to Mobile next week to talk to other religious leaders and help organize a religious support committee. Stay tuned for updates.

Friday, September 7, 2007


On August 29th, our Executive Director, Kim Bobo, attended the annual shareholders meeting of Smithfield Foods, the largest hog processing plant in the world -- whose hugely controversial labor practices are at the target of a sustained organizing campaign. Kim has written a lively and illuminating account of the contentious meeting, which she calls "both interesting and disturbing," for the next issue of IWJ's print newsletter, Faith Works. You can sign up here to receive the newsletter and thus be sure to get Kim's report as soon as it's available.