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: 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.

Equality Requires an Intersectional Approach: Equal Pay Day 2017

Sixty-seven percent. According to a new and soon to be released report by the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, the median wage black women earn is a mere 67 percent of what white men earn and only 81 percent of what white women earn. This April 4th, which marks Equal Pay Day in the United States, UUSC stands with women, in particular women of color, in calling for policies that honor equal pay for equal work. By coming together to work at the intersection of gender, race, and worker rights, we can continue to make progress to end the wage gap, and there’s no better time to get started than today.
graphic on Black and Hispanic women's incomeEqual Pay Day marks the day each year when women’s earnings catch up to what their male counterparts earned the previous year. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, “women in the United States are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to an annual gender wage gap of $10,470.” The Economic Policy Institute’s (EPI) data on the gender wage gap breaks the data down further: the median hourly wage for white men in 2016 was $21.29 and for white women was $17.25, while black women earned a median of $13.90, and Hispanic women earned a median of $12.27.

What these numbers show, is not only is there a gendered wage gap but, as the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress (JEC) and multiple others have pointed out: the intersection of race and gender deepens existing inequality that women in the United States face. This is not an accident or an oversight, it is a symptom of structural issues regarding how women are treated and compensated in the workplace.

How the Gender Wage Gap Plays Out

Multiple causes underlie the wage gap, many of which have been explored by economists, activists, and academics. One reason includes challenges that women face because of where they work. The National Women’s Law Center explains, “Women are underrepresented in higher-paying jobs that are often dominated by men, and overrepresented in low-paying jobs—women are two-thirds of workers in occupations that typically pay $10.50 or less per hour…like home health aide, child care worker, and maid and housekeeping cleaner.” JEC also notes the dynamic that race plays, “Hispanic and African-American women… are more likely than white women to hold jobs that offer fewer hours and are more likely to work part-time involuntarily” and they are also “less likely to have access to benefits such as paid sick leave, paid family leave and flexible work schedules.”

Workplace policies and low federal wages perpetuate the pay gap. As UUSC’s former partner Restaurant Opportunities Center United found,
66 percent
of women they interviewed in the restaurant industry reported being subjected to sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions from customers.” Overall, 63 percent of women ignored the harassment from guests, in part as a result of the power dynamic between servers and customers, given the restaurant industry’s pervasive use of a tipped minimum wage. Higher wages could thus go a long way towards increasing
pay as well as reducing harassment women face in the restaurant industry.

Relatedly, women also face the “motherhood penalty.” Research has “consistently shown that women with children are paid less than womenwomen earn less than men at every education level graphicwithout children and men with or without children.” A recent Forbes article describes how the penalty goes even further than wage inequity, “new moms are often perceived to have lower competence and commitment, and they face higher professional expectations and a lower chance of hiring and promotion.”

Many efforts have also been made to try and account for how other factors affect wages, such as the area of industry or level of education. However, controlling for these does not explain away the wage gap, and in some cases, the findings are counterintuitive. EPI found that when education is taken into account, the wage gap actually increases as women earn advanced degrees. 

Looking Forward

If we want to eliminate the wage gap in the future and achieve equal pay for equal work, there are clear policy options that can be advanced, such as enacting fair pay protections and raising the minimum wage. Legislation like the Fair Pay Act and Paycheck Fairness Act would address wage disparities and make it easier to for parties to demonstrate that discrimination has occurred. The Center for American Progress reports that women comprised “approximately two-thirds of minimum-wage workers in 2012,” despite the fact that “nearly two-thirds of mothers are breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families.” That’s an annual salary of less than $16,000. Increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour would boost wages for about 15 million women.

Finally, paid family leave and access to child care have both been making headlines in recent months, due in part to the discussion of these issues by the Trump administration. However, the policies being discussed are woefully inadequate and we must work toward a national paid family and medical leave standard for women and men, including adoptive parents, same-sex couples, and non-birthing parents.” Additionally, the Tax Policy Center found that under Trump’s child care plan “more than 70 percent of the total tax benefits would go to families with income above $100,000, and more than 25 percent to families with income above $200,000.” Policies like these will do little for the average worker in the United States.

Programs that help people pursue claims of wage discrimination or ensure that they can take leave after welcoming a new child into their family are critical, particularly to women working in minimum wage jobs or jobs with irregular hours. Further, programs that address things at the structural level, like increasing the Federal minimum wage, also work to remove the bias of interpersonal decisions.

Take Action

While the current political context makes closing the wage gap feel like a long shot, there is hope. Across the country, intersectional organizing is taking place, as workers and their allies are coming together to advocate and move movements forward that work for racial justice, gender justice, and worker rights. Any solutions that strive to close the wage gap must look beyond a sole focus on gender justice, and should include a push for racial justice.

On May Day (May 1), UUSC’s partner Food Chain Workers Alliance is helping to organize a general strike demanding respect for worker rights, and gender and racial justice, and to call for a world where the most marginalized working families live with dignity, safety, and power. Another UUSC partner, Rural Community Workers Alliance is also participating. We hope you will join them to support women and working families.

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.

The Resistance Prevented Puzder From Becoming Labor Secretary, The Nation, John Nicols, February 15, 2017

Last Wednesday, Andrew Puzder, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, withdrew his nomination due to mounting public pressure, opposition, criticism, and most of all, resistance. Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, a parent company to many fast-food chains, has a bad reputation when it comes to worker’s rights. He has never advocated for increasing the minimum wage despite increasing overtime hours, has a history of sexist behavior, and allegations of 30 years of domestic abuse from his ex-wife. Trump’s nomination of Puzder was a disappointing blow to many workers across the country, especially after a campaign full of promises to increase wages. He is, as Elizabeth Warren stated, “the opposite of what we need in a labor secretary.”

Puzder’s reputation, opposition from republicans, but mainly resistance movements, were the perfect combination to put pressure on Puzder to step down. Labor activists and worker’s rights groups rallied and continued to gain momentum and build support for the worker’s right movement.

If you’re passionate about worker’s rights, join our partner, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), on their Return to Human Rights Tour. The march begins March 16 in Gainesville, Florida and will go through 12 cities, ending in Columbus, Ohio at the headquarters of Wendy’s on March 29.

This is What a Day Without Immigrants Looks Like, Colorlines, Kenrya Rankin, February 16, 2017

Photo of immigrants and allies at a protestIn response to the administration’s executive orders, “Muslim bans” and increasing ICE raids, immigrants and allies organized “A Day Without Immigrants” as an act of resistance and solidarity. Restaurants, businesses, and immigrant workers across the country stayed home from work and some even kept their children home from school. The main goal for this day was to show Americans the many ways in which immigrants contribute to society. Convenience stories to high end restaurants across the country closed their doors to show solidarity with their workers and the immigrant community.

Check out the rest of the article to see some amazing photos that captured this day.

Federal immigration raids net many without criminal records, sowing fear, The Washington Post, February 16, 2017

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers are disregarding long-held rules and standards on who to arrest and where. Immigrants have been victims of racial profiling and arrested outside churches where they are seeking sanctuary; leaving domestic violence proceedings; outside of supermarkets, and arrested without having a criminal record.

Last week, nearly 700 immigrants were rounded up in a series of ICE raids that took place all over the country, inciting a new degree of fear in immigrant communities. Families are refusing to leave their homes and some have stopped sending their children to school for fear of being picked up. Despite ICE’s claims that they are only arresting those with dangerous criminal records, close to 200 of those that were arrested last week had no criminal record whatsoever.

Read more about the Muslim ban, ICE raids, and other events in our blog Rights, Rulings, and Raids: Unpacking recent events.