NOT LOVIN’ IT
Fast Food Fast for Worker Justice
A Communal Fast
Lent is often considered a personal time to give up something we like, focus ourselves on God, and reflect on the idols that we have been told we cannot live without. At our church, we invite people to participate in a communal fast—called a Lenten Compact—that focuses us not only on our relationship to God, but also on our relationship to our neighbors—especially our brothers and sisters who are “bound in chains of injustice.” We are calling our church to a true fast—one that is not just the act of denying oneself of something because that is not enough—but a fast that moves us toward justice and reconciliation.
In Isaiah 58, the Lord condemns those who fast while exploiting their workers and makes clear what a true fast should accomplish:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
Why a “Compact” for Worker Justice?
The Bible is clear: “The laborer deserves to be paid.” (1 Timothy 5:18 NRSV) Yet, workers around the world are suffering. Workers are chained to their machines in China. Children are lured into slavery by the cocoa plantations in West Africa. Workers pay off debts through labor for generations in India. And things are not much better in the United States, where it seems we on a race to the bottom.
Since the Great Recession, 75% of the jobs that have been created are low wage service jobs—not the middle wage jobs that were lost. Low-wage workers are especially concentrated in the food service and retails sectors. Income inequality—the gap between the rich and poor—is at its highest rate since 1927. Executive pay and bonuses have continued to increase while the wages of most Americans has stagnated or declined. In fact, current CEO pay is 774 times a minimum wage worker. To put that in perspective, it would take a typical McDonald’s front line employee 777 years to make what McDonald’s CEO, Don Thompson, made in 2013. And the future of work is not bright for most people. Human labor is being replaced with robotics at an alarming rate. Through the extensive use of robots in its distribution system, online giant, Amazon, effectively eliminated 540,000 jobs. What will happen to all the displaced workers?
McDonald’s, the largest fast food chain, had profits of $4.76 billion in 2014. Yet those on the front lines of their stores make just over minimum wage–$8.25 in Illinois and less in many other states. We often picture McDonald’s employees to be high school students, yet the average age of McDonald’s employees is 28 and 78% of the employees (mostly women) are the main wage earners in their families. Additionally, because of low wages, 52 percent of employees are enrolled in one or more assistance programs—like food stamps and Medicaid—costing taxpayers about $7 billion a year! Studies show that a person in Chicago must earn $20.86 an hour to support a family’s basic living expenses.
Walmart, the largest retailer in America, claims that the average full time worker receives $12.78 an hour. They also claim that over half of their employees make more than $10.00 an hour. That means that many full time employees make less than $10.00 an hour. They also don’t tell you that 46% of their workforce of over a million people work part time and receive no benefits. Yet, four members of the Walton family, principle owners of Walmart , are among the 10 wealthiest people in the US with a combined net worth of over 95 BILLION dollars in 2012. In the meantime, a Walmart in Canton, OH, has held a holiday food drive to benefit store employees in need. On Black Friday 2014, many Walmart employees staged a strike asking for better pay and access to full time hours. Some of those employees were fired by their managers even though it is against Walmart policy. Those managers have not been disciplined.
Many workers are experiencing “wage theft” which occurs when workers are denied the legally required minimum wage or overtime rate or when they work off the clock without pay, are paid late, or are not paid all of the money or benefits they are owed. For example, in Illinois, tipped employees must earn at least a combined $8.25 per hour between hourly wages and tips. In 2012, among car wash workers (considered tipped employees), over 75% of workers did not earn the minimum wage of $8.25 per hour, and 13% earned less than $2.00 per hour!
In Washington State, 200 migrant farmworker families at Sakuma Brothers Farms have been organizing to fight for better wages, housing conditions and work conditions. The workers want a fair contract with fair wages and clear protection of their rights. So far, they have been met with harassment and threats. Supporters of the migrant workers have asked for a boycott of Driscoll’s products (varieties of fresh berries) until Sakuma Brothers agrees to a contract.
We do not believe that an economic system that is built upon substandard wages and mistreatment of workers mirrors God’s kingdom values of human dignity, neighbor love, and shared abundance.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 18 THROUGH SATURDAY, APRIL 4
“Choose the Cross, not the Arches”
To move ourselves and our community toward justice, we ask all participants to take the following actions:
Fast from ALL fast food chains to show solidarity with all low-wage workers.
Participate in efforts to eliminate wage theft and raise the minimum wage.
Fast food is a multi-billion dollar industry. People spend more in fast food outlets than on movies, books, magazines and newspapers combined. Yet, most of the workers in the industry are paid minimum wage. Every time we purchase food from a fast food outlet, we put money into the pockets of those who profit at the expense of people. By fasting from fast food, we draw attention to the need for increasing the minimum wage and giving dignity and value to all work. In Chicago, fast food workers are fighting for a $15 an hour wage. We can also use our resources to pursue justice in the workplace by eating where employees are paid fair wages.
SUPER-SIZE Your Lenten Compact
We encourage you to take these additional action steps to bring justice to the workplace:
- Work the Word
Each day, a Scripture related to worker justice, work, wages, and treatment of workers along with a question or two to help you reflect on the passage will posted on a separate page on this blog . You can make comments, share stories and interact with others about the daily Scripture.
- Get Educated
Throughout Lent, a list of books, articles, online blogs, documentaries and resources will be made available to help you understand the conditions of workers in the US and around the world and the issues related to wages, workers rights, and employment in the robotic age. Resources will be posted on the Compact blog.
- Participate in Discussion Groups and Palm Sunday
If you live in Chicago, we will join other Logan Square churches to talk about worker justice and take action in support of the Fight for $15. The first discussion will take place on Wednesday, February 25, at Nuestra Señora De Las Americas, 2900 W. Logan Blvd. The second discussion will be held on March 25, and Humboldt Park United Methodist Church. On Palm Sunday, churches will gather at the Logan Square Eagle to celebrate the just kingdom Jesus brings.
- Fast Add-ons
- Fast from Driscoll’s produce to support the migrant farmworkers at Sakuma Brothers Farm.
- Fast from Chocolate to draw attention to the use of child slaves at the cocoa plantations in West Africa.
- Fast from Walmart to support low-wage workers who want to organize a union to get a fair contract.
- Use your Resources to Support Worker Rights
there are some great organizations working locally and nationally on the issue of workplace justice such as Interfaith Worker Justice and Arise. We encourage you to support these or other organizations with the money you have saved during the Fast Food Fast.
Finally, we encourage you to share this Compact with your network of friends and family. Consider posting a link on your Facebook page to the Compact blog or emailing a copy of the Compact to your contacts.
While the Compact will end at Easter, it is our hope that “supporting worker justice” will become your ongoing Kingdom lifestyle