On Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend representatives from the workforce, labor unions, state government, schools, and churches gathered at the Beckley courthouse in Dallas to attend the latest Workers’ Rights Board meeting. Presentations from Rosemarie Henkel-Rieger, Rev. Dr. Joerg Rieger, Elaine Lantz, and the honorable state representative Roberto Alonzo offered perspectives on the current jobs crisis, the impact of the crisis on the unemployed as well as on job-holders, and practical suggestions on approaching elected officials. This meeting built upon the foundation of information garnered through testimonies and research over the last few years concerning labor issues amidst the growing crisis.
Dr. Joerg Rieger, Wendland-Cook Professor of Constructive Theology at Perkins School of Theology-SMU, introduced the meeting by posing the questions, “What is going on in the Jobs Crisis and how does it effect not only those who lost their jobs but all of us? How do we respond? How do we deal with these issues when we understand that all are affected?” He asserted that community organizations and religious communities have a role to play in the solution. The disconcerting trend of a growing gap between the rich and the poor, which is now at record levels, only accentuates the need for cooperation and communication of those who are not experiencing the benefits.
Rosemarie Henkel-Rieger, who spent many years in the bio-tech industry and teaching elementary through high school grades, presented research collected by North Texas Jobs with Justice and findings based on testimony heard during the Workers’ Rights Board meetings over the past few years. The research emphasizes four main points:
- There is no such thing as a jobless recovery
- The current problem is NOT a personal problem. This is affecting all of us.
- Someone has to be benefitting from all of this. Who is it?
- There are solutions. We often think, “What can we do? It’s the economy and out of our hands.” However, there are actions that can be taken for constructive change.
The staggering numbers within this research indicate that the wealthiest 5% in the nation hold almost 65% of the nation’s wealth. One of the primary problems in the crisis is that even in the midst of the recession, the incomes of the rich and the profit margins of many national corporations have had banner years. At the same time, all sectors of the economy have experienced a declining ratio of jobs to job seekers. Thus, while many seeking jobs cannot find them, the brunt of the recession is loaded onto the backs of those working who are now expected to maintain growth and to be more productive with fewer full time workers.
Elaine Lantz, working as a union organizer for National Organization of Legal Service Workers (NOLSW), expounded on what the unemployment crisis does to people who are still employed. She noted that the situation is much more vicious for those not protected by a labor agreement, as they are susceptible to the increased and often unjust forms of discipline and layoffs which have been exacerbated as the crisis has intensified. Lantz accentuated many aspects of the jobs crisis that fly under the radar of prominent unemployment statistics. Throughout the jobs crisis, there has been an influx of part-time work and temporary employees as many businesses are sub-contracting work out to temps in order to avoid the provision of full-time benefits. The average hours worked per week has dropped again: it is now at 34.2 hours in August. It was noted that the official unemployment had stayed unchanged at 9.1 percent nationwide. This number, however, only counts people actively looking for work while having filed for unemployment and does not include part time workers who are not receiving benefits and those who have exhausted their unemployment benefits still seeking work. When the under-employed and those who remain unemployed without receiving benefits any longer are considered, the “un-official” unemployment rate rises to a shocking 23 percent.
The Honorable Roberto Alonzo, a Texas State Representative, provided insightful advice on how we can speak to lawmakers on these issues of concern. His first exhortation was to “be persistent—that’s how things get done.” He emphasized the role of the voter in the elections and the need for involved communication with political officials making decisions as the primary means for change. The people decide who gets the political positions. He encouraged everyone to utilize the resources of this technological age to share thoughts with political officials through email, texts, phone calls and whatever means possible, asking the question, “For whom among us is this a crisis?”
In response to the issue of job creation he stated that a major issue is that companies are paying fewer taxes than ever before. Verizon is one such example, as they posted a 2009-10 income of $24.2 billion, paid $0 in taxes, claimed a refund of $1.3 billion, paid a combined $46 million to its top 6 executives, and outsourced thousands of jobs to lower wage contractors in the United States and other countries. Many jobs could be created by working together with political officials to address fair taxation of major corporations.
In conclusion, the Workers’ Rights Board acknowledged that within a crisis that is as large as any since the great depression, “what we are after is of historic proportions.” With historic crisis comes historic opportunity for the afflicted to rise together on behalf of nation, state, and neighbor as a movement for change. As more and more laborers are affected by the downturn of the economy, the increasing number of voices from the community might address law makers, companies, and partners in solidarity, striving for life and hope with the acknowledgement that the unemployment crisis truly affects everybody.
The Worker Rights Board members committed themselves to form delegations that will visit with government officials in order to present the findings of the Board and to ask for increased commitment to resolve the unemployment crisis.
At the meeting Jann Aldredge-Clanton shared prophetic lyrics that she has written to be sung to the tune of traditional Christian hymns. These challenging lyrics which connect the life of faith to the current jobs crisis are listed below:
Where are Liberty and Justice?
Amos 4:1, 5:11-12,24; Proverbs 1:20-23, 3:13-18
Where are liberty and justice when so many live in need?
Let us rise to caring action, showing faith and love through deeds.
Holy Wisdom, give us courage; help us be Your prophets bold,
Joining You to end oppression, truth and fairness to uphold.
Now the rich are growing richer, while the poor cry in distress;
heads of corporations flourish, while the poor have less and less.
Unemployment still is growing; many more are underpaid;
give us power, Holy Wisdom, so that changes can be made.
How unjust that some make millions, crushing others with their greed,
basic rights of workers flaunting, never hearing those in need.
Holy Wisdom, come to help us faith communities unite,
moving hearts and changing systems, joining hands to work for right.
Holy Wisdom, send us forward, working for equality,
economic fairness bringing, making dreams reality.
As we join with those who suffer, fill us with Your loving care;
may we take Your peaceful pathways, bringing justice everywhere.
Word copyright 2011 Jann Aldredge-Clanton EBENEZER, or BEACH SPRING or AUSTRIAN HYMN 220.127.116.11D
We Hear the Cries of Millions
Amos 5:11-12, 21-24
We hear the cries of millions, weighed down with stress and strain;
the rich are growing richer; the poor cry out in pain.
Come, Sister-Brother Spirit, and help us all unite,
to join in loving kindness and faith to work for right.
Now jobs are getting scarcer, while corporations thrive;
the unemployed are struggling to keep their hope alive.
Come, Brother-Sister Spirit, and guide us to be fair,
to change oppressive systems so everyone will share.
Join hands for jobs with justice, with workers' rights ensured,
with safe and fair conditions, health care for all secured.
Come, Sister-Brother Spirit, and fill us with Your power;
inspire our words and actions in this most urgent hour.
Now let us walk together to bring equality,
so all are fully nourished to be all we can be.
Let justice roll like waters, like ever-flowing streams;
come, Brother-Sister Spirit, awaken hopes and dreams.
Words copyright 2011 Jann Aldredge-Clanton PASSION CHORALE, or AURELIA, or ANGEL'S STORY, or WHITFIELD 18.104.22.168 D
Rise and Speak Out
Proverbs 1:20-23, 3:13-18; Luke 4:18
When we look all around, unemployment abounds,
and we're filled with distress, fear, and doubt.
Then we hear Wisdom say, "We can show a new way."
And She leads us to rise and speak out.
There are millions in need, crushed by others with greed,
who abuse and oppress with their clout.
Wisdom calls us to go,
And Her justice to show,
And She leads us with love to speak out.
There'll be fairness and peace; worker's rights will increase,
when we wake up and hear Wisdom shout.
Let us come and unite, working daily for right;
join together to rise and speak out.
Rise up and shout,
for its time to speak out;
let us cry out for justice;
let us rise and speak out.
Words copyright 2011 Jann Aldredge-Clanton TRUST AND OBEY