May 1, 2014

Religion and Worker's Rights

By Jessica Nguyen
What do workers' rights, immigration reform and government accountability have in common? For many, the answer is religion. After all, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and virtually every other religion in the world teaches values of mercy, justice, and rights to the downtrodden in society. So it should come as no surprise that religious groups across the country are coming together this May Day, as well as other days of the year, to fight for rights to workers, regardless of faith, immigration status or socio-economic status.

May Day is the name given to International Worker's Day, a day celebrated in many countries of the world as a recognition of worker rights and justice. In the United States, we have seen a renewed interest in this day, as religious groups come together to discuss the issues we are facing as a nation. But why is this even a topic of consideration for such groups? Because within each religion tradition, we find the basic concept of love thy neighbor, and most religious leaders interpret this as helping our fellow citizens in their time of need. This is then translated into an emphasis on helping the needy, providing a boost to those who need it, and even, believe it or not, paying the worker his dues.
What does this mean to the world around us? Consider the following:
  • The majority of the world is poor, including millions of Americans living below the poverty line.
  • A large number of Americans, as well as those in other countries, are struggling financially, and either don't have jobs or very low-paying ones.
  • The minimum wage in America is extremely low and businesses refuse to allow it to be increased in order to protect their bottom line.
  • American workers in low-paying jobs are often not paid appropriately for their labor. Many employers don't pay their workers on time or refuse to pay wages at all. This is called wage theft and each year in the Houston area alone more than $700 million are stolen from workers.
It seems appropriate that religious groups are taking on this tough battle, speaking up against employer injustices as well as government abuses, helping the poorest sections of society get their rights back. Even more appropriately, they are increasingly doing so in interfaith groups. When all faiths preach this important value of worker justice and rights of the poor, it makes perfect sense to join hands and create synergistic advantages. A large number of worker rights agencies are coalitions of interfaith organizations, such as the Fe y Justicia Worker Center right here in Houston.
This May Day, I urge individuals and religious organizations to consider the issue of worker rights, and to join forces with each other to do so. Together we can ensure that those who are working hard to feed their families are given their due recompense. That is the true meaning of Love Thy Neighbor.
Jessica Nguyen is a former student of the Fort Bend Independent School District who plans to purse a career in interfaith studies. The views expressed in this post are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Interfaith Houston.

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