Labor Day weekend is a time when faith communities and the labor movement celebrate their common bonds of equality, justice, dignity, and fair treatment for all workers. In fact, in 1909, the American Federation of Labor adopted the Sunday before Labor Day as “Labor Sunday” to honor the spirituality of the labor movement.
As a clergy member of the Presbyterian Church (USA), we believe that work is a Godly endeavor and as such, should be performed with integrity and contribute to the well-being and transformation of society. As part of our religious teachings regarding work, we are also directed to ensure that all workers are treated with justice. For Presbyterians, these two values of integrity and justice intersect in the workplace.
Bishop William Murphy addressed these issues in the 2010 Labor Day Statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, saying, “New jobs with just wages and benefits must be created so that all workers can express their dignity through the dignity of work and are able to fulfill God’s call to us all to be co-creators.”
Rabbi Jack Moline of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, Virginia says, “Throughout the Torah, there are specific instructions on the treatment of workers. They are generally framed by a reminder from God that we know how it is to be slaves, and we must therefore show both justice and compassion for those who labor on our behalf.” “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or stranger in one of the communities of our land.” – Deuteronomy 24:12
Mr. Hussam Ayloush, Executive Director, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Southern California says, “The employer-worker relationship must be based on justice and mutual consent honoring the dignity of the worker. To illustrate this, it is ordained that workers’ wages should be made clear before a worker commences his or her work. The Prophet Muhammad said, ‘Give the employee his wages before his sweat has had time to dry’ (Ibn Majah collection). Employers are accountable for their workers and have to ensure that their workers are justly treated at all times.”
Members of faith communities across the country are responding to their religious calling by working through ecumenical and interfaith coalitions with worker justice centers to address injustices such as hazardous working conditions and workers whose wages have been stolen because of underpayment by their employers.
For the faith community, such service is intended to help uphold our country’s labor laws and statutes, but it also appeals to a higher calling to support and to protect the life, dignity, and respect of each worker.
Rev. Phil Tom is the Director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships