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Shut It Down: “Fight for 15” in 2015

Posted by: Gordon on 2/14/2015
Rev. Rodney E. Williams of Kansas City affiliate MORE2 which has been on the front lines with fast food workers this past year, spoke at a recent Fight for 15 conference.

Faith leaders from Gamaliel affiliates that are part of the Fight For 15 movement to raise the wage for fast-food workers were part of a gathering in Atlanta the second week of February to plan and prepare for another year of campaigning.

The conference drew leaders of the movement and their allies from around the country. It featured the voices of workers struggling to raise a family, pay bills, and keep a roof over their heads while dealing with workplace challenges that come with low wages and a lack of respect from their employers. Rev. Rodney E. Williams, co-president of Metropolitan Organization for Racial and Economic Equality (MORE2), delivered this sermon encouraging workers to keep fighting:

Shut it Down

I am humbled to be in your presence, among such great leaders from across the nation. The first thing I would like to do is call your attention to a scripture found in the Book of James, Chapter 5. I am going to read two versions: the King James version, and then the Rodney E. Williams remix. King James reads like this:

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.
Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.
Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.
Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.
Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

The remix: Attention, you rich corporate executives at McDonald’s and Burger King and all the fast-food chains across the globe. I’m putting you on notice: weep and wail. For the table is turning. The wages of the laborers who run your stores, who feed your customers who make you rich so that you can send your sons and daughters to private schools. The ones whose wages you have stolen, are crying out and their cries have been heard. They have reached the ears of our lord our God. Although you live in the lap of luxury, God is about to flip the script.

I’m here this evening as a result of a moral issue which is concerning the income gap between the rich corporate executives and the everyday laborers that make them rich.... Today everything is like it was in the days of James. Much of the wealth of this nation is still the result of exploitation and unfair compensation of the workers, especially in the fast food industry.

Working Together

Dr. King wrote in his book, Why We Can’t Wait about examples of the historical denial, exploitation and humiliation of blacks and poor, and he says some form of payment needs to be made. The only way payment is going to be made is if we have a mass movement of labor, civil rights, and faith working together. Working together we can reshape the consciousness of these yet-to-be United States of America. This movement has escalated to the point that we can’t stop now. We can’t even think about stopping or slowing down. That is not an option for us. [A]s we move towards this historical movement, not a moment, that is changing the course of this nation, we must remember how we got here.

We did not get here by ourselves. We are standing on the shoulders of great labor movements in the past. As a result of exploitation and unfair compensation the labor movement in the United States was born and grew out of the need to protect the common interest of the workers. So back in the year 1886 just 129 years ago, Samuel Gompers formed the American Federation of Labor for the protection of workers. In 1909, just 106 years ago, the Teamster Union was formed for the protection of worker rights. In 1921, just 94 years ago the Service Employees International Union, SEIU, was formed. In the year 1941, just 74 years ago, because of the moral issues concerning the auto workers in America those workers pushed they fought and they won the right to organize the Ford motor company. In 1955, just 60 years ago, as a result of the moral issues concerning the income gap and the working conditions between the rich businessman and poor day laborers we now have the AFL and CIO.

In 1968, 47 years ago, on Feb. 1st, two black sanitation workers were crushed to death by an unsafe working condition, when the compactor mechanism on the trash truck was accidentally triggered. On the same day, as a result of inclement weather, 22 African-American workers were sent home without pay while their supervisors were retained with full day’s pay. On February 12 more than 1,000 of the 1,300 black sanitation workers began to strike for job safety and wages and benefits and recognition of the union. And guess what y’all? They won. If they can win then in those situations, in that climate, we can win right now.

The Rev Dr. Martin Luther King then went down to Memphis to support the strike and he urged the workers to escalate the pressure and shut the places down with massive workers support. In other words, when you go on strike, you are doing exactly what Dr. King said to do. He said leave your homes go out in the street and shut it down. If they won’t give you what you want, if they won’t give you what you need, you need to shut it down.

All those dates in history are behind us now. We are now at the beginning of a new and more powerful movement. This movement has been born. And there’s nothing that they can do about it. In 190 cities across America, 33 countries and all seven continents, fast-food workers across the globe have joined the historical labor movement, and at this very moment we are reshaping and redefining America forever.

But you are not alone. For the first time in history this nation has pulled together labor, civil rights, and the faith community. And we are working together. Because we understand that our future is connected with one another. In fact there is no me without the we, and there is no we without the me. We need each other. Yes, you. Who are underpaid and overworked. Yes you who go to work every day and have to deal with the working conditions that are mean, cruel, and unjust. You are the leaders that are helping America to have a greater and a brighter future. Just as the writer in the book of James issues a warning to the rich oppressors of that day, God is issuing a warning to the rich corporate executives who because of their employment practices have become rich oppressors of our day.

Time for a change

In the first three verses of the book of James it warns the oppressors that because of your evil ways, misery is coming your way. Although you may turn a profit in the present moment, all that is going to go under. As we look at verses 4 through 6 it tells them why. And just as this message was for the oppressor in the days of James, this message applies to the mean, unjust, fast-food oppressors of this day. This message is not only for the evil fast-food oppressors but this message is for you. This message is to encourage you to never give up the fight.

Because a change is going to come. Not only will you get $15 and a union you will get a whole lot more. Because the word of God says, eyes have not seen and ears have not heard what God has in store for them. God has great things in store for you and your country. Listen, you fast food oppressors. The amount of money that you pay your workers to open and close your stores—

You make them do double shifts and no overtime. The ones that wait on your customers, cook your food, clean your bathrooms, wash your pots and your pans, the ones that you send them home early so you can meet labor costs, the ones that you call at a moment’s notice and put on the schedule and take off the schedule—God is saying these fast food chains have committed fraud, they have outright stolen wages, they have taken money from the workers. If you’re taking money from the workers you’re taking money from the babies and the children of the workers as well.

Every time you march and every time you rally, every time you strike, every time you shut down highways, every time you close stores, understand that your cries for justice are not only being picked up by the media, but God himself hears your cries. I know God loves workers because God himself was a laborer. The Bible says he worked six days to create this earth and on the seventh day he rested. I believe god loves laborers because there was a brother by the name of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was charged to rebuild the wall. Nehemiah was a laborer. There was a many by the name of Apostle Paul, and Apostle Paul was a tentmaker. He was a laborer. There was a man by the name of Jesus who was a carpenter that made things with his hands. He is a laborer.

So I’m giving a charge to all of my brothers and sisters of the fast-food industry that the next time you go out and march, you march with your head up high with your hands lifted up and say we don’t care, we’ll shut it down.
Tags: Fight for 15 | Sermon | video | jobs | MORE2 |
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