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AFL-CIO and Interfaith Worker Justice, A National Coalition of Faith-Based Worker Rights Groups, Enter Agreement to Improve Conditions for Marginalized Workers

Partnership Marks the Continuation of the Historic Broadening of America’s Labor Movement
(Chicago) – A new national partnership agreement to be established today by the AFL-CIO and the largest faith-based network serving low-wage, often immigrant workers will help promote and advance the core principles of social justice in the workplace, both organizations said. Expected to be approved here today at 7 p.m. by the Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) Board, the new partnership agreement with the AFL-CIO will strengthen labor-religious ties within the movement for workers’ rights.

“The core values that drive both our movements are the same: equality, fair treatment, dignity and respect,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “Too often the religious and labor communities have worked in isolation from one another. It’s time we rediscover our common bonds and bring our organizations closer together.”

Last August, the AFL-CIO Executive Council approved a landmark resolution providing for formal ties with the worker centers that have sprung up across the country to help marginalized workers, paving the way for a partnership agreement with groups such as the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), the nation’s largest day laborer association, and now the Interfaith Worker Justice coalition. This agreement does not make the workers in the Interfaith Worker Justice network members of unions, but provides an organized venue for joint work to ensure workers’ rights by the AFL-CIO and faith-based worker centers across the country. “

All religious traditions believe that those who work should be paid for their labor and treated with respect and dignity,” said Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice. “Workers’ centers put that belief into practice.”

The AFL-CIO and IWJ will work together in addressing workplace discrimination faced by immigrants and people of color, and on litigation and other ways to advance civil rights as well as workplace rights for low-wage workers and building and construction trade workers. They will also work together for comprehensive immigration reform that supports workplace rights and includes a path to citizenship and political equality for immigrant workers.

Ten years ago, there were four worker centers in the United States. Today, there are over 140 in 31 states, in rural areas as well as big cities. Founded in 1996, Interfaith Worker Justice is the only association of religiously-affiliated worker centers that focuses on educating, organizing and mobilizing the religious community on issues and campaigns that will improve the wages, benefits and working conditions for workers, especially workers in low-wage jobs. IWJ established their workers’ center network in 2004 to educate and organize low-wage and immigrant workers and build power for workers in both their workplaces and the broader community. There are currently fourteen worker centers in the IWJ network.

Worker centers operate as grassroots mediating institutions providing support to communities of low-wage workers, many of them new immigrants and people of color. Worker centers in the IWJ network are “safe spaces” where low-wage and immigrant workers join with people of faith, union organizers, lawyers and volunteers to enforce workers’ rights and fight sweatshop conditions. Although workers’ issues vary from place to place, centers in the IWJ network educate workers about their basic rights in the workplaces, such as the right to a minimum wage and overtime, healthy and safe work conditions and the right to organize for a better life. The centers provide support for workers to stand up for their rights and challenge illegal and unjust activity in the workplace.

In some communities, IWJ worker centers and unions have already been working collaboratively – lobbying state legislatures, mayors and city councils for living wage ordinances, working to defeat local anti-immigrant ordinances and spotlighting unscrupulous employers for workplace abuses. The agreement will build on existing, informal relationships and promote the creation of new ones between local labor movements, IWJ worker centers and the religious community in general, the two organizations said.

Contact: Esmeralda Aguilar (202) 637-5018
              Cynthia Brooke (773) 728-8400

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