“No More Wage Theft!”“Show Me Fifteen!” “Organizing Is Our Right!” “My Fast Food Union!”
These were some of the cheers we shouted as we walked in procession to the McDonalds past 39th and Broadway in Kansas City this past Tuesday. I protested in solidarity with fast food workers across America, who are standing up to stop their wages from being stolen by the billion dollar companies they are working for. We came together to demand McDonalds stop taking money workers need to pay their families’ bills. When we use our power in numbers, we can stop them from stealing worker’s pay and help get them better pay.
The problem we were addressing was managers and owners who delete workers’ hours to keep labor costs low. We encouraged all workers to record their hours, compare them to their paystubs and report this illegal practice if it’s occurring. Three people in our group testified it certainly is occuring and is hurting their financial wellbeing. These are some of the questions workers need to ask themselves:
“Are you paying back cash register shortages?” “Did you have to pay for your first uniform?” “Are you getting paid time and a half when you work more than 40 hours?” “Are your checks just plain coming up short?” “Are you getting your pay docked for breaks you did not take?”
Hearing the stories of some of these workers helped me understand why we needed to be demanding fifteen dollars an hour for them and the right to organize a union.
Our Catholic faith calls us to a preferential option for the poor. We need to be in solidarity with workers who experience injustice. Worker’s unions have been weakened over the last couple decades. As Pope John Paul II said in his 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens: “Work emerges from those who are expressing their nature and provides the grounding for the dignity of work. Work is for the person, not the person for work.” He warned against treating workers as a means of production and setting the lowest possible wage. He also warned against economism which is the evaluation of labor only in accordance with its economic purpose and materialism. Four traditional rights of labor defined by this encyclical are: suitable employment for all those capable of it; just remuneration for the work done; the organization for the labor process to respect the requirements of the person and his or her life; and the right to form unions. Standing in solidarity with the workers this week reminded me the value of Catholic social teaching: by working, human beings achieve a deeper realization of their personhood through a deeper participation in community and the common good.