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Work, Wages and Caring for Those Who Labor

Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, 261)

Beloved in Christ,

On the first Monday of September, the banks will close and many will rest from their labors. Labor Day, a national holiday since 1894, is “a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers….a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” (US Department of Labor)

In the years after this tradition began, our nation passed remarkable legislation under Republican and Democratic administrations to benefit laborers: instituting the eight hour day, addressing child labor, improving regulations, and support for collective bargaining and unions. Not surprisingly, from 1930 through the end of the World War II, union membership as a percentage of the population rose. Since 1945, it has steadily declined. At the same time, the distribution of wealth has shifted dramatically. Specifically, from 1963 to 2013, families in the bottom 10% went from having no wealth on average to being about $2,000 in debt. Those in the middle doubled their wealth between 1963 and 1983. Families near the top (90th percentile) saw their wealth quadruple, and the wealth of those at the 99th percentile grew six-fold. (Source)

The bottom line is that those who labor in our fields and factories, those who serve our tables, those who wash our dishes, those who pick up our trash — they are getting poorer while a privileged few are getting richer. This is not a nation that honors labor or the laborer. And a national holiday does little to change this.

In the collect for Labor Day, we pray that we may do our work “not for self alone, but for the common good.” We further pray to “be mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers and arouse our concern for those who are out of work.”

Work, wages, and the care of those who labor are moral issues. The prophets of ancient Israel chastened kings for forgetting this. Jesus reminds us that at the center of our spiritual discipline is our care for those who are poor and in need. The economic realities and their attendant human suffering demand that we not only pray for fairness and equity, but that we work to change the world.

At our last General Convention, our church spoke on this issue of fairness and justice when it passed the following resolutions:

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 78th General Convention reaffirms resolution 2003-A130, “Support the Establishment of a Living Wage,” which confirms that “it is the policy of The Episcopal Church and its dioceses and congregations to provide employees with a living wage;” and that the church “continue to support living wage campaigns in the cities and counties of every diocese;” and be it further

Resolved, That The Episcopal Church, at all levels, engage in and advocate for increasing the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour or a living wage; including increasing the minimum wage for tipped employees to a level that also enables them to earn a living wage.

While several states including California have made progress on this issue, it remains a vital question at the federal level. On Labor Day, as we pray and play, let us also resolve to advocate for those who labor. Let us recognize that the common good depends on all. There are no solitary Christians; we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. This is indeed our Christian labor!

I pray that you have a gentle and blessed Labor Day.

best jim
The Rt. Rev. James R. Mathes
Bishop, The Episcopal Diocese of San Diego

Category: #Bishop's Blog, #Communications

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