Interview: As They Say In The Bible ...
Industrial: Just Doing It
Unions: Breaking Into the Boys Club
Activists: Making the Hard Yards
Bad Boss: In the Pooh
Unions: National Focus
Economics: Pop Will Eat Itself
Technology: Dean for President
International: Rangoon Rumble
Education: Blackboard Jungle
Review: From Weakness to Strength
The Locker Room
A Recipe for Conflict
After the Accident
Cuba - the Debate Continues
Greetings from Japan
San Diego, California, is a beautiful city and the seven shopping malls owned and maintained by Westfield America Inc add to the beauty. Each mall is sparkling clean and well manicured.
Yet, for more than two years, cleaners who serve Westfield Malls in San Diego have sought just wages, benefits and working conditions. The faith community, led by clergy affiliated with the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, has stood right beside these workers to lift up their plight and seek a fair wage for an honest day's work. The Interfaith Committee works closely with Service Employees International Union local 1877 in San Diego and the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union representing cleaners who seek the same justice at Westfield properties in Australia.
Our work, advocating for just treatment of these workers, represents the first time that we have worked with partners across the globe and has given new meaning and consequences to globalisation. Perhaps together we can make a real difference in the lives of workers.
We are members of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice. The ICWJ lifts up the issues of the low-wage worker in San Diego. Our mission is to mobilise and educate the San Diego religious communities and people of faith to support issues and campaigns that will sustain lives with dignity for workers and their families by such means as improving wages, benefits and working conditions.
We represent many faith traditions including at least a dozen different Protestant traditions, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Bahai and many others. Throughout the United States there are more than 60 Interfaith Committees for Worker Justice.
The story of Maria, an immigrant from Mexico, who worked for more than three years cleaning at Horton Plaza in San Diego, illustrates our concerns. Maria is a single mother raising two sons. She worked for minimum wages with no vacation days, sick days or health insurance. She took the risk of speaking out in favour of organising employees into a union to improve their abhorrent working and living conditions.
Westfield's chosen contractor told Maria and several of her co-workers to turn in their Westfield shirts. They were never formally fired, nor given the courtesy of a letter of dismissal, nor a reason for throwing them out like the garbage. They have not worked a day at the Westfield mall since.
Maria's counterparts Down Under tell similar stories of unsafe conditions, lack of respect, poor wages and waiting weeks and months for meagre pay cheques.
This isn't a picture of a just world. The prophetic mandates of all traditions demand that we concern ourselves with the poor. It is within our reach to help these cleaners take a step out of poverty simply by giving them their due just wages and benefits.
Somebody has to be a cleaner. Very few of the immigrants who come to us under desperate circumstances and add so much to our societies will have the good fortune to strike it big.
We applaud their ingenuity and the sense of gratitude that often makes them generous. However, the vast majority of immigrants are seeking a life of hard work and modest rewards where they can raise families who will better themselves through a good education and small material comforts. Certainly these individuals deserve just wages for their efforts.
For two years we have sponsored more than 30 prayer vigils and delegations to management at the various Westfield properties in San Diego. For two years we have asked, beseeched, cajoled and demanded that Westfield America, Inc hire responsible contractors that pay their employees just wages and benefits and treat them with respect and dignity.
We have read that Westfield is led by charitable management. Again, we ask, invest in those who serve you with their sweat. Hire responsible contractors and give these workers a chance to take a step out of poverty.
Rabbi Coskey is the head of the San Diego chapter of the Interfaith Committee of Worker Justice, which includes representatives from almost 20 different religions.
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