Celebrating New Partnerships to Advance Economic Justice

UUSC partners with over 80 organizations across the world to protect and advance human rights. In this three-part series, I will highlight a few of our newest partners and the projects we’re supporting across our focus areas: Economic Justice, Environmental Justice and Climate Action, and Rights at Risk.

Our Economic Justice Program strives to protect the rights of low-wage workers in the United States who face discrimination and human rights violations in the workforce, including immigrants, Muslims, and people of color. We partner with worker centers to strengthen protection mechanisms, improve working conditions, and respond to violations. In Central America, through the sale of Equal Exchange fair trade coffee, chocolate and other products, we support small farmer co-operatives to build sustainable livelihoods and advance human rights of other cooperative groups, particularly the rights of women, youth, and indigenous people. I’m excited to share with you three of our newest partnerships and projects that we’re currently supporting to advance economic justice.

Greater Minnesota Worker Center: Resist & Persist Campaign

The Greater Minnesota Worker Center
(GMWC) is “a coalition of low wage workers, community and labor activists, academics, and progressive clergy and laity to support low wage workers to build power, improve working conditions, and raise wages for workers and to improve the quality of life in Greater Minnesota.”

UUSC has partnered with GMWC, on their “Resist and Persist” (R&P) Campaign, a new project designed to provide added support to refugee and undocumented immigrant workers in Minnesota.

In the first few months of Trump’s presidency, GMWC has seen how anti-immigration policies and sentiments have already added to the marginalization of refugee and immigrant populations in Minnesota. One of the primary goals of R&P is to engage local communities in sanctuary practices by educating workers on their rights, creating a support network within the state, and engaging in legislative advocacy that protects the rights of refugees and immigrants. Another goal of the project is to provide low-wage immigrant and refugee workers with the knowledge, skills, and resources to organize for better working conditions.

“GMWC believes that we should not jeopardize the safety and security of people who have fled their homeland and have sought sanctuary in our shores due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on ethnicity, race, religion and other factors.” UUSC has partnered with GMWC to support the R&P Campaign because we share this belief. Learn more about GMWC and their innovative work here.

Fundación entre Mujeres: Strengthening of Strategic Planning Processes and Promotion of Sustainable Systems

Fundación entre Mujeres (FEM) is an organization of women farmers in northern Nicaragua. The organization “promotes ideological, economic, political and organizational empowerment through a holistic approach.”

Most Nicaraguan peasant women face a multitude of problems that deepen existing inequalities in access to and control over land and property and all their rights, including the right to live a life free from violence. These rights are threatened by the advance of monocultivist production (eg tobacco), and a state policy that does not favor the reduction of inequality gaps that peasant women face.

To counter these threats, FEM has a long-term goal to sensitize rural women to sustainable agricultural practices, which will give them control over their lives and the means to support themselves. UUSC has partnered with FEM to “support the development of a strategic organizational plan and the development of an agro-ecological defense network”. This commitment will help FEM continue to promote the processes of integral empowerment of peasant women, for the full exercise of their rights and the realization of their economic rights from a feminist, agroecological, and food sovereignty perspective.

FEM is an organization that has been promoting the rights of Nicaraguan peasant women for more than two decades, supporting education, preventing and caring for survivors of gender-based violence, and promoting sustainable agricultural practices in pursuit of their own autonomy. UUSC is proud to partner with an organization that has supported women for more than two decades. For updates on FEM, like them on Facebook.

Make the Road Pennsylvania: Comites de Defensa

Make the Road Pennsylvania (MRPA) is dedicated to advancing policy reform that will protect the rights of low-income minority workers in Pennsylvanian cities, where there are high concentrations of Latinx and African Americans living in poverty.

Pennsylvania also has one of the highest numbers of hate groups in the country. According to MRPA, “Eastern Penn. is the fastest growing part of the state, and many new residents are immigrants or people of color. The politics, however, have been reliably anti-immigrant at a congressional and state level.”

In light of this, UUSC has partnered with MRPA to establish “Comites de Defensa,” geographically-based committees that are ready to respond to the needs of immigrants in Pennsylvanian communities.

Much like GMWC’s R&P Campaign, Comites de Defensa aims to give support to immigrant families as raids and deportations increase—ostracizing already marginalized communities, spreading fear, and disrupting families.

The committees established through MRPA’s project “will be able to respond to abuses in the workplace, mobilize support for critical meetings and policy decisions affecting their members’ lives, and shift the public narrative towards pro-immigrant and worker messages.” Further, this effort will create a rapid response network in Pennsylvania to protect immigrants from Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. UUSC is proud to partner with MRPA to promote economic justice for immigrants. Check out their Facebook page to get the latest news about their work.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! As Pride Month comes to a close, we’re sharing articles on LGBTQI rights. This week’s Rights Reading includes articles about intersectional identities, the LOVE Act, gay oppression in Tanzania, and photos from Pride celebrations across the world.

Something Radical Happened When Eid and Pride Fell on the Same Day, Hawa Arsala, Fader, June 26, 2017

The “something radical” was that Arsala took the chance to celebrate two important parts of her identity. Here, Arsala shares a conversation that she had with the LGBTQ workshop moderator at an Afghan-American conference, Bilal Askarar, who realized that they were related. As the Pride celebration in Washington, D.C. and Eid – a Muslim celebration marking the end of Ramadan – occurred on the same day, Arsala and Askarar took the opportunity to have an open dialogue about what the coinciding celebrations means to them, as well as what it’s like to be queer Muslims in the United States in this moment.

Askarar said, “the past couple years I thought of it as like a separate thing, there’s Ramadan and Pride, and I can’t celebrate Pride because it’s Ramadan. I have to be good. It brings up all the juxtapositions and contrasts and dichotomies within myself. What’s the definition of a good Muslim? Can you be a messy Muslim and do you still get to celebrate Eid too?” It’s refreshing to read about people having honest conversations like these, where they can discuss and inhabit the intersectionality of their identities, the privileges they have living in America, and their continuing struggles as members of these communities.

Senator Tackles Cold War-Era ‘Lavender Scare’ with LOVE Act, Medardo Perez, NBC Out, June 26, 2017

During the “Lavender Scare” of the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of federal employees suspected of being gay were fired, based on a belief that they were more susceptible blackmail and could pose a security risk. In the last few years, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) has led the push to bring justice for these ex-employees. Last year he successfully called on then-Secretary of State John Kerry to officially apologize for the Lavender Scare on behalf of the State Department, and this year, he introduced The Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration Act of 2017 – the “LOVE Act,” for short.

Perez writes, “In addition to rectifying past discrimination against LGBTQ State Department employees, the LOVE Act would also establish a permanent exhibit on the ‘Lavender Scare’ in the State Department’s National Museum of American Diplomacy and provide guidance for the State Department on issues of assuring visas for same-sex spouses of personnel posted overseas.” The passage of the LOVE Act would be a step towards retribution for the gay employees who lost their jobs over half a century ago and would bring more awareness to this overlooked moment of the Cold War era. UUSC applauds these and other efforts to rectify the mistakes of the past and, along with many others, joins in solidarity with those still feeling the effects of anti-LGBTQI stigma and discrimination.

Gay in Africa: ‘Even Cows’ Disapprove of Homosexuality, Says Tanzania President Amid Crackdown, Conor Gaffey, Newsweek, June 27, 2017

LGBTQI equality still has a long way to go in the United States, but it’s important not to forget that the fight for equality is a global one.

In Tanzania, homosexuality is a crime punishable by fines and up to 30 years in prison. Oppression against the LGBTQI community is nothing new for the country, but President John Magufuli has recently “signaled a crackdown.” His administration has disappointingly ramped up efforts to suppress gay rights activists, called on the medical community to expose people suspected of homosexual sex, and even banned sexual lubricants from the country. All of these efforts are based on pseudoscience and false perceptions of the LGBTQI community. These misconceptions result in the continued persecution of LGBTQI communities in Tanzania and many African countries, and are often the result of funding and propaganda campaigns from the U.S. religious right that promote and reinforce homophobia on the continent.

However, there is hope—UUSC Program Leader for Economic Justice Philip Hamilton recently attended Changing Faces, Changing Spaces, a conference that drew LGBTQI activists from across to share their work, stories, and strategies for how they are supporting their respective communities and working to advance LGBTQI rights throughout the continent. Read, “Celebrating Pride: Reflecting on SOGI Rights in Southern Africa” to get the full details.

 

People celebrated Pride across the globe. Please check out these beautiful and inspiring photo essays from this month’s celebrations and don’t forget to show your support by posting your own on social media!

 

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week’s Rights Readings covers immigration events, from an unjust deportation of a mother and her son to May Day protests around the world.

In a day of frantic tweets, a senator pleaded with Trump to stop a deportation. It didn’t work, Samantha Schmidt, The Washington Post, May 4, 2017

Senator Robert Casey Jr., a Democrat from Pennsylvania, pleaded with Twitter users to advocate against a mother and her five-year-old son’s imminent deportation that would likely lead to their death. After witnessing the murder of her family members in Honduras, the mother was being threatened and chased by gang members. She and her son fled to the United States seeking asylum, and they have been held at Berks County Detention Center for the past 18 months. Senator Casey, along with thousands of other Twitter users, tweeted at Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and President Trump, pleading for this family. Despite the public uproar, the mother and her son were deported.

They are the first of 14 families who have been held at Berks long-term. The other families also come from Central America and face similar situations – they are seeking asylum here in the United States. Though Senator Casey was not able to stop this specific deportation, he has written letters to DHS, signed by 13 other senators, asking for the release of four other families currently being held at Berks.

UUSC has followed this case closely and continues to demand justice now for the mothers and children detained at Berks and for all vulnerable asylum seekers fighting for their rights. Read more here! 

May Day Marches and Protests Around the World, Alan Taylor, The Atlantic, May 2, 2017

Crowds gather in the Philippines for May Day
Crowds gather in the Philippines for May Day

From Los Angeles to New York, Moscow to Manila, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world rallied for May Day, or International Workers’ Day, to stand up for worker’s rights. The protests ranged from peaceful to forceful. In France, anti-riot police officers threw tear gas at youth who were targeting them with firebombs. In Los Angeles, pro- and anti-Trump supporters were separated by police tape. In many cities, whether protests were peaceful or violent, many were arrested as they marched. Thirty-one total cities all over the world are highlighted in this great photo-journalistic piece covering May Day events.

UUSC joined the May 1st coalition in Chelsea, Mass. Marching alongside other members of the faith community, unions, the Movement for Black lives and many others, staff joined the movement, protesting the criminalization of immigrants and communities of color, policies that threaten the planet, and economic inequality. 

Five Big Questions for the Future of the Immigrant Rights Movement, Marisa Franco, Truthout, May 2, 2017

This year’s May Day was one of the biggest since 2006, largely in part because the Trump administration has focused so much energy on deportation and the border since the election. The immigrant movement has changed in multiple ways. The anti-immigrant movement has grown more militant, more intergenerational, and unapologetic, while the other side has become intersectional, increasing connections across racial and cultural ties, and LGBTQ groups, emphasizing opposition to over policing and criminalization. Grassroots movements are also focusing more on local organizing rather than focusing on federal legislation, which was more common 10 years ago.

Franco poses some important questions about next steps and strategies and how that will shape and effect this movement on both sides. Questions around exponentially increasing engagement, not just within the immigrant community, but with allies outside; how to highlight the impact immigrants have on our economy while still holding the importance of their humanity; the targets of the movement; and finally, how we ought to be approaching this as an intersectional movement.

Read more about the immigrant rights movement in the first of our three-part Expanded Sanctuary blog series.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week, we are highlighting ways to get involved in the #May1Strike, the Nepal Earthquake anniversary, and the anniversary of the Rana Plaza Factory Collapse.

 Immigration rights demonstrators rally in downtown Los Angeles 11 years ago.

How to Join the ‘Day Without Immigrants’ on May Day, Ariana Rosas Cardenas, The Nation, April 28, 2017 

 “When workers, immigrants, women, Muslims, black and brown, indigenous, queer and trans communities face exploitation, criminalization, incarceration, deportation, violence and harassment, we strike.”

This year’s May Day, an annual worker’s day strike held on International Worker’s Day, is expected to have the biggest turnout in over 10 years. Not only are immigrants and workers participating, but Native Americans, refugees, LGBTQ, and people of color are all joining to protest the Trump administration’s threats and attacks on minority communities.

Hundreds and thousands will be missing work, school, and shopping to show the impacts these combined communities and movements can have and to defy the hate and criminalization they are facing. This article highlights different events that are happening all across the United States.

Together with the Unitarian Universalist Association, UUSC has launched a joint campaign, Love Resists, to resist hate and create more welcoming communities. We’ve posted some more ways you can participate in May 1 events here!

Nepal’s earthquake disaster: Two years and $4.1bn later, Narayan Adhikari, Al Jazeera, April 24, 2017

It has been two years since the Nepal Earthquake, and only 5% of the houses that were destroyed have been rebuilt. The Nepal Earthquake destroyed close to 824,000 homes, which means over 800,000 families are still waiting for their homes to be rebuilt. Despite over $4 billion being donated and pledged for reconstruction efforts, only 12% of these funds have been used. A lack of government coordination and understanding, low participation among local groups, and overall lack of transparency have all contributed to slow recovery.

The article emphasizes that “the international community can bring about more lasting change by directing their support towards citizens and local organisations committed to solving the root problems of corruption and lack of information.”

UUSC is proud to be part of this international community that brings lasting change. We work with grassroots partners that are empowering survivors and protecting their rights as they rebuild their homes and lives. Read more about our work with two of these organizations!

It Has Been Four Years Since the Rana Plaza Factory Collapse—How Much Has Changed?, Michelle Chen, The Nation, April 24, 2017

Four years ago, Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza factory collapsed, killing more than 1,000 workers and fueling an outrage for labor reform needs in the garment industry. Despite this outrage, labor reforms have been slow to make. After hundreds went on strike at one of the manufacturing centers in Ashulia, labor activists and factory workers have been fired and accused of various acts by the same government that promised reforms and protections four years ago.

Wage theft and proper working conditions are some of the basic demands workers are asking for. Activists and workers that speak out are being punished, and at the end of the day, workers feel that large companies are only looking to make a profit. These workers currently only making $67 a month, and the raise they were asking for is still far below a livable wage.

International pressure has allowed for some regulations and improved working conditions, but without continued public pressure, workers are losing their right to organize – a detrimental effect on equal rights and protections. Without the ability to organize, there is also no structure to hold owners and bosses accountable.

The Good Buy, UUSC’s online store, recently published a blog with resources on how you can get involved in the Fashion Revolution campaign, a new movement to wake up people to the continued injustice in the garment industry.

A Positive Step from Tyson but Workers Wait to Celebrate

A worker at a poultry factory

For too long poultry workers employed by Tyson have endured harsh working conditions and grave worker violations. After years of standing up to the industry giant, the workers received welcome news this week. On Wendesday, Tyson announced a number of changes that aim to improve the pay, benefits, and work conditions for their employees across the country—a possible step in the right direction following years of advocacy and pressure from UUSC’s partner, Northwest Arkansas Worker Justice Center (NWAWJC), in collaboration with UUSC, Oxfam America, and a broad coalition of allies.

The changes, which will start being implemented later this year, are intended to improve work conditions for Tyson’s more than 97,000 employees in the United States who work in food plants in 24 states across the country. In particular, the changes are designed to ensure that poultry workers are given a voice in the company, and that they benefit from improved safety, compensation, and transparency—all things the poultry workers care deeply about, and have been fighting for, for years. In the words of Magaly Licolli, the Executive Director of NWAWJC, “Tyson’s new commitments mean a lot for all poultry workers. Every day we hear horrible stories of what happens inside poultry plants, and these commitments give poultry workers hope for the future of their campaign to continue pushing other poultry companies to follow. We’ll still encourage workers to keep monitoring these changes and to tell us what’s going on inside the plants. Definitely, this is a new phase of the campaign. It is not the end, but the continuation of the fight to ensure these changes are real for all Tyson’s processing workers.”

A Step in the Right Direction, but More Work to be Done

While NWAWJC and its allies recognize that the announcement of these changes may be a first step in the right direction, they also emphasize that the struggle is not over. Magaly Licolli emphasizes, “Given the corporation’s history of serious health and safety violations and its lack of accountability to workers’ rights, NWAWJC will be ready to hold Tyson accountable to their commitments to workers’ rights the moment they waiver.” It is now time to stand with NWAWJC and ramp up the pressure on Tyson to ensure that these changes are implemented and that conditions for workers are improved as a result.

Tyson, headquartered in Springdale, Arkansas, is the largest poultry company in the country, with 30% of its estimated $37 billion in annual sales coming from its chicken products. However, the profits have come at a high cost born by the low-wage men and women they employ who have reported significant worker rights violations over the years. As documented in a 2016 report of working conditions in Arkansas’s poultry plants produced by NWAWJC, with support from UUSC, The Food Labor Research Center, and the University of California Santa Cruz, poultry workers in the state faced a wide range of dangerous and difficult working conditions. Of the poultry workers surveyed for the report:

  • 62% had experienced wage theft
  • 91% did not have access to earned sick leave
  • 51% reported experiencing discrimination
  • 44% reported experiencing verbal or sexual harassment

UUSC’s researcher, Amber Moulton noted, “NWAWJC’s report, based on a survey of 500 Arkansas poultry workers, provides hard evidence of discrimination, inhumane and unsafe working conditions, and unlawful wage and hour violations. We are thrilled that the report has contributed to this important step by Tyson and hope to see continued improvements in the future.”

A series of factors appears to have contributed to this change from Tyson, which had otherwise resisted efforts to improve working conditions. In particular, in December 2016, Tyson underwent a shakeup of their leadership which resulted in Tom Hayes being named Tyson’s new CEO. It appears that this change of leadership reflected the pressure that Tyson was feeling as a result of NWAWJC’s advocacy, and the advocacy of their allies, including UUSC’s state-wide poultry report.

UUSC has partnered with NWAWJC, through support for their research report and advocacy conducted outside Tyson’s February 2016 shareholder meeting, in order to support their efforts to organize the workers in Arkansas’ poultry industry, many of whom are low-wage Latinx and Marshallese workers. UUSC is proud to stand with NWAWJC in advocating for improved conditions at Tyson. As Licolli added, “UUSC has been a key partner in this campaign, they’ve been supporting the work of the Center for several years now, and we appreciate all the efforts they’ve made to support the poultry campaign.”

With May Day quickly approaching, there are a number of local actions taking place, that will provide an opportunity to advocate for worker rights. Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA), is helping to organize a national general strike, in which NWAWJC and UUSC partner, Rural Community Workers Alliance, will be participating. For more information on how you can participate visit the May 1 general strike website.

UUSC Condemns Repeal of Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Order

In recent weeks, workplace rules protecting against discrimination targeting LGBTQ communities, as well as wage theft, have been rolled back. Most recently, through the repeal of the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” order, these efforts to roll back workplace rights have targeted women’s rights to equal pay and to be free from sexual harassment in the workplace. The “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” order, which applied to companies with federal contracts, required wage transparency to ensure that women were paid equally, and banned forced arbitration clauses for sexual harassment, which are often used to prevent sexual harassment claims from reaching the courts and entering public record. With characteristic disregard for human rights and what is just, the administration has repealed these protections for women in the workplace just days before Equal Pay Day, which marks the day each year when women’s earnings catch up to what their male counterparts earned the previous year. UUSC stands in opposition to retrogressive policies and actions, such as the repeal of the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” order, that move us further from a world which is free from oppression and injustice, where human rights are a reality for all.

Learn more about the importance of equal pay for women and men and how you can take action to support women and working families with our partners here.