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Founded and headed by Midwest Academy trainer, Kim Bobo
Combines the progressive faith movement with new labor
Founded in 1996, Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) is a Chicago-based faith coalition that advocates what it terms “worker justice,” which is the labor equivalent of social and economic justice. IWJ’s progressive agenda intertwines the global growth of new labor’s power with open-borders immigration policy in the United States. The organization sees itself as promoting the welfare of both domestic and foreign workers.
IWJ’s original board of directors reflects this intersection of the progressive faith movement with new labor. Among its noteworthy board members were such activists as Jack Egan; Rev. James Lawson; Rev. Joseph Lowery; Rabbi Robert Marx (former board chairman of the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, and a board member of Healthcare-NOW!); Rev. Jim Sessions (former executive director of the AFL-CIO's Union Community Fund, and director of the Alex Haley Farm, the national training center of the Children’s Defense Fund); and Rev. Dr. Paul Sherry (former president of the United Church of Christ).
As of mid-2010, IWJ’s board of directors consisted of such people as Rabbi Jill Jacobs (the Rabbi-in Residence at Jewish Funds for Justice); Ros Pelles (Director of Civil Rights, Human and Women’s Rights at the AFL-CIO); Rev. Jim Sessions (who also serves as president of the AFL-CIO's Working America Education Fund); and IWJ president Bishop Gabino Zavala (who is also the Bishop President of Pax Christi USA).
Since its founding, IWJ has organized a national network of more than 70 interfaith committees, workers’ centers, and student groups. IWJ is also part of the Jim Wallis-cofounded Faith in Public Life (FPL) network. In 2007, IWJ and Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) -- both FPL members -- helped to found the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM), an open-borders coalition that gives aid to illegal immigrants facing deportation. Kim Bobo currently directs the daily operations of NSM. IWJ asserts that “military-style workplace raids” unfairly "discriminate against people who appear ‘foreign’"; "tear families and communities apart"; and "are counterproductive at a time of economic crisis."
Many of IWJ’s other campaigns are labor-oriented. For example, IWJ has demanded that Wal-Mart allow its workers the right to unionize. In 2008-09, along with the greater FPL network, IWJ campaigned for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would strip union members of the secret-ballot vote. Kim Bobo and her interfaith colleagues call the EFCA “a moral imperative and a civil and human right.” Bobo championed the Act as a tool that would help “level the playing field in the workplace.” Says IWJ: "As people of faith, we believe that Wal-Mart should be a good employer and a good neighbor. All of our faith traditions – Christian, Jewish, Muslim – have statements urging employers to pay wages that can support families, provide benefits for families, ensure that workers are treated with respect and dignity on the job, guarantee workers' right to organize, and challenge sweatshops at home and abroad."
Bobo’s book Wage Theft in America (2008) outlines another prominent IWJ labor campaign. Bobo claims that wage theft, where employers steal from their workers, is “a national epidemic.” (According to IWJ, this form of theft occurs when workers are paid less than the minimum wage, and when they are misclassified by their employers as independent contractors, thus "allowing employers to shirk their share of payroll taxes and to illegally deny workers overtime pay.") To address this situation, Bobo calls not only for a strengthening of the U.S. Labor Department, but also for the expansion of the labor movement itself, since “unions by the very nature of what they do, fight wage theft.”
Like many in the labor movement, Bobo viewed the 2008 election of President Barack Obama as a victory for new labor: “When the new administration comes in, unions will be in a position to help set the agenda.” Bobo's vision of solving worker-justice problems is to “target industries” by “send[ing] investigators out to find large numbers of workers whose wages are being stolen.” “Once we get more staff,” she promises, “we can put investigators in the workplace.”
In 2010, IWJ condemned a new Arizona law (SB 1070) deputizing state police to check with federal authorities on the immigration status of any individuals whom they have stopped for some legitimate reason, if the behavior of those individuals -- or the circumstances of the stop -- cause an officer to suspect that they might be in the United States illegally. Said IWJ:
"Many organizations throughout Arizona and on a national level are calling for a Freedom Summer / Human Rights Summer in the tradition of the Civil Rights Movement, wherein people from all over the country went to the South to organize against the odious racism of Jim Crow laws. With the passage of SB 1070 we are in a similar position, and Arizona has become the epicenter of the Immigrant Rights Movement."
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