July - August 2001
Twenty religious leaders have sent a letter to President Bush and members of Congress advocating an increase in the minimum wage. Among them are the Rev. John H. Thomas and the Rev. Richard L. Hamm, General Ministers and Presidents, respectively, of the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The two denominations have been ecumenical partners since 1985.
The 20, representing various religious traditions, expressed their "strongest support" for the proposed $1.50 increase in the federal minimum wage. They urged "adoption of this increase without excessive tax breaks or other amendments that would weaken important worker protections."
The letter pointed out that "four long years" have passed "since Congress acted to give this country's lowest wage workers a raise." It continued, "Over that time, these workers, a majority of whom are adults helping to support their families, have seen almost all of the gains of the last increase disappear through inflation. Though these working people may work two or even three jobs, many still have to decide between medicine or paying the rent, school clothes for their children or paying for a repair of the car they need to get to work. These pressures do nothing but strain families and communities, replacing hope with despair."
"Minimum wage workers and their families have been left behind" during the recent period of unprecedented prosperity, they wrote, calling it "the longest period of economic growth in the nation's history and the lowest unemployment rate in three decades."
"An economic system that allows a privileged few to live in comfort and wealth while others struggle to provide food and shelter for their families, is neither just nor compassionate," they wrote. "We can and must do better."
The proposed $1.50 per hour increase would affect 11 million Americans. The religious leaders see this as an issue of basic human rights and economic fairness that should transcend partisan lines.
But they observed that some members of Congress "will propose an even smaller increase of only $1.00 over three years as well as amendments that would compromise the 40-hour work week and strip overtime pay from millions of workers."
"As people of faith," they concluded, "we believe that human dignity and worth is a gift of God and that the work one does helps shape and give meaning to an individual's self worth and to the collective life of our communities."
The religious leaders lobbying effort was coordinated by the Rev. Paul H. Sherry, former UCC president, on behalf of the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support. Also involved were staff from the Public Life and Social Policy Ministry Team from the Washington office of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries.
"I feel very deeply and very strongly about the need for poor working people to get a decent break," Sherry says. He urges UCC members to contact their representatives in both Houses of Congress to urge passage of the legislation.
The bills, HR665 and S964, will probably be voted on in late July and early August.
For more information on this issue, go to www.ucc.org/justice/alerts/a-july01.htm and www.bread.org/issues/minimumwage/background.html.