Tuesday, January 10, 2017
January marks Human Trafficking Awareness month. Within the wide umbrella of human trafficking is the issue of labor trafficking, which happens on a daily basis all over the world, including in the United States. It is estimated that there are currently 21 million victims of trafficking and forced labor in the world today (International Labor Organization); 5.5 million of these are children.
The U.S. is both a source and transit point for trafficking, and is considered to be one of the major destinations for trafficking victims. Miami, in particular, is one of the four major points for human trafficking within the United States.
The implication of this upsetting statistic is that the laborer you drive past working in a field or even the child that you see hanging laundry in a yard could have been labor trafficked here. Labor trafficking does not discriminate based on age, race, gender, or geographic location; with profits as high as $1.5 billion dollars each year, anyone is susceptible to fall victim to or contribute to trafficking.
Labor trafficking can occur in many types of workplaces, including restaurants, bars, tourist venues, janitorial services, and agricultural work, all industries that are prevalent in South Florida and throughout our state. It is distressing to know that forced labor is happening around the world, and even more so when you realize that it may be happening in your own neighborhood.
UNICEF helps governments recognize the signs of labor trafficking through the training of social workers, health workers, police officers, and other border officials to spot signs of trafficking. UNICEF, along with community partners, including South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, is working to address labor trafficking by hosting information sessions, panel discussions, film screenings (i.e. “Not My Life”), and fair trade fairs, but we need your help and your awareness as we continue this work.
Although the problems within our communities may at times seem overwhelming, we have no doubt that together we can create a better system for everyone.
Written by Laylah Copertino, UNICEF Community Engagement Fellow, Miami, Florida
UNICEF is a community partner of SFIWJ. For more information about UNICEF, visit http://www.unicefusa.org/.
Friday, June 20, 2014
The Federal minimum wage, had it kept current with inflation, would be $10.74. Instead, the current Federal minimum wage is $7.25. This means that, in real dollar terms, the Federal minimum wage is worth just two-thirds of what it was worth in the 1970’s. When this is coupled with the fact that a larger percentage of the American work force earns minimum wage today than in the 1970’s, we see clearly that this country is moving backwards in the living standards of our working people. Because wage laws do not include a stipulation that the minimum wage be indexed to inflation, every time we have a debate on this issue we are merely fighting to regain some of the ground lost rather than fighting to move ahead. Ethical employers cannot compete against the unscrupulous greedy employers who are more than willing to undercut their competitors on price by keeping wages low. This is one of many reasons why it is imperative to increase the Federal minimum wage, in order to provide a morally tenable level playing field. In a country as rich as ours, no one working full time should be earning poverty wages. As people of faith we should realize that we are judged by how we treat the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society.
Father Frank J. Corbishley is the Chaplain of St. Bede Chapel at the University of Miami.
Monday, June 02, 2014
May 15th was a Global Fast Food Workers Strike Day. In more than 135 U.S. cities and dozens of cities around the world, workers from fast food restaurants went on strike, standing up to demand a living wage for the hard work they provide for the industry. The fast food industry is a billion dollar industry that is growing every year. The profit made by top restaurant CEOs in 2012, in fact, averaged about 788 times the minimum wage made by their employees, according to the Economic Policy Institute (see the chart here
). Many of these workers depend on their job in fast food restaurants to make ends meet and often it isn't enough.
Being able to walk with these workers in Miami, one of the cities to hold first fast food strikes, was a powerful experience because we met the workers who struggled daily. We saw that they were risking their jobs to speak out for what they believed was the right thing to do for themselves, their loved ones, and their co-workers. It is really easy to say "get a new job" until you meet a worker whose daily life is dependent upon two jobs that barely provide for her and her three children.
South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice joined the workers in solidarity at the crack of dawn and later in the pouring rain so that we could offer our support. And, we, along with faith leaders from many faith communities that came out to meet the workers that day and to hear their stories, will continue to stand with these and other workers until they gain the respect that they deserve in their workplaces.
Friday, May 23, 2014
When members of my congregation ask me why I have been on the board of the South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice Group for 8 years, I always have to stop and think for a couple of minutes and then I say something like”because we aren't finished with our work yet.” Now, of course, in reality, I do not delude myself that the work of bringing justice to working people and poor people will be something that I personally can ever finish. Nonetheless, I feel obligated to stay in the struggle for as long as possible even though it often seems to be filled with “little victories and big defeats” as Joan Baez once said about justice work in general. I have actually seen positive things happen in my time on the SFIWJ board, though. Sometimes I haven't even learned about our successes until long after the work we did as was the case with the NOVA workers who finally got their union long after I felt all our work had been for nothing.
Other times we win victories and then have to spend years trying to protect those victories as is the case with the local Wage Theft ordinances. Still, I know we are doing what we should be doing despite the set backs and the glacial pace of change. Every faith tradition tells us that we should pay special attention to the poor and that people who work hard should have a decent life. Pope Francis has been a huge inspiration to many people of faith, Catholics and others, with his bold effort to bring back some the tenants of Liberation Theology, namely what was termed “preferential option for the the poor.” After many years of Christian Prosperity theology combined with New Age ideas about creating our own reality, it is very refreshing to see the religious left grow bolder again in supporting an increase in the minimum wage, protecting people's right to all the money they earn, and other ideas that should seem obvious to any person of any faith tradition. May we all stay strong and ever hopeful for the journey to a more economically just world.
Rev. Gail Tapscott, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Ft. Lauderdale and apparently life time board member of South Florida Interfaith Justice
Tuesday, May 06, 2014
The Wage Theft Preemption Bills (SB 926 & HB 957) are DEAD
South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to all of you who supported our efforts to protect victims of wage theft during this session. Your assistance in actively pushing back against bills that would have made it even more difficult for workers to recover their stolen wages was instrumental in stopping these bills for the fourth year in a row. The 2014 Legislative session officially ended on Friday, May 2nd, and we can now once again focus on the important work of supporting workers and educating communities, businesses, and others on the effects of wage theft including its ripple effects that can be felt throughout local economies.
We want to thank you for calling legislators, signing and sharing our petition and faith leader letter, and actively getting involved through social media. Your unceasing interest and concern for workers have been both impressive and touching and we look forward to continuing to work with you on issues affecting workers, particularly low-wage workers, throughout our communities. Without your support and active voices, our work wouldn't be possible and we ask that you stay in touch with us to find even more ways to make our actions and your voices count.
Thank you so much for your continuous support!
Monday, April 28, 2014
Every year, on April 28th, Workers' Memorial Day is honored to remember the workers who were killed in their workplaces. It is also the the anniversary of passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970. South Florida Interfaith Worker justice would like to remember those workers and their families in prayers to be shared.
Please lift up this prayer and share them throughout today on social media, email, mail, or through word of mouth:
For Worker's Memorial Day (April 28th),
we want to honor the workers who lost their lives in their workplaces with prayers.
We pray for consolation for families and their loved ones who are grieving for their losses.
We pray that the workers in various sectors will no longer
have to suffer preventable injuries and deaths in their workplaces.
We pray for the hearts of the employers to soften in order that they promote the safety and well-being of workers
and treat them with the respect and dignity that they deserve.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
"As a man of faith, I believe God hears the cries of the people who are suffering. More than 1,500 Floridians will die this year from lack of Medicaid access. Representative Fresen, with over 7,500 constituents in your district who fall into the 'coverage gap', I pray that you are moved to end their suffering. It's not only the right thing to do; it's also the faithful act to follow." Reverend Dr. Guillermo Marquez-Sterling, one of our wonderful board members, came out to lift up a prayer for community members who are asking Representative Fresen to support medicaid expansion in Florida!
Monday, February 10, 2014
The year 2013 had many ups and downs for people who have waited expectantly for comprehensive immigration reform for a very long time. With Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) signed by President Obama in 2012, many young undocumented immigrants could finally pursue opportunities that they could have only dreamed of in the past. Although not perfect, the Senate passed Bill S. 744, otherwise known as the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act," in June of 2013, showing not only that immigration reform is crucial issue to our country but also that it is possible with bipartisan support. Nevertheless, many felt that this was not enough for countless separated families and millions of individuals who live in fear every day. All across the nation, many communities actively voiced their concerns about these families and issues of immigration reform through immigration marches, civil disobedience actions, and vigils with fasting and prayers.
South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice along with community partners campaigned vigorously for fair and comprehensive immigration reform. We hosted phone banking sessions, participated in direct actions urging target leaders (Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) to move legislation, and brainstormed ways to be more effective about our approach. When the House of Representative proposed Bill H.R. 15, which was very similar to the Senate Bill, many hoped that immigration reform could be discussed and moved forward. Ultimately, the hope of reform in 2013 died with much disappointment although our overall hopes continue. Tensions between the Republican Party and Democratic Party resulted in inaction that left tens of millions without a prospect for citizenship, a status that would have afforded them the security, opportunity, and impetus to become more productive members of our national fabric.
Despite the fact that immigration reform failed to pass in 2013, numerous community members and organizations including faith communities continue to stand firm in calling on our legislators to follow through with promises to fix our broken immigration system. SFIWJ has and will work towards compassionate and fair immigration reform that is not only practical and thoughtful, but also reflective of our moral values: embracing the stranger while raising the voices of a community who is often disenfranchised from the political process.