“Promote justice through solidarity with those who are marginalized, especially women and children, and work with others to identify and transform oppressive systems.”
Dominican Sisters of Peace, 2009
In a year unlike any other, we hear the voices of many expressing pandemic fatigues, who just want life to be back to “normal” again—eating in a restaurant without a mask, attending a ballgame with the stands full of fans and an end to virtual meetings. Many others suffer from “outrage fatigue” in a year filled with political vitriol.
Others, sometimes called minimum wage workers, and more recently, “essential workers,” simply long for a time when their voices will be heard. The message is always the same – a call for just wages and benefits that enable them to live without the fear of being homeless.
Cynthia Murray, a Walmart worker from Maryland, shares a common concern among low-wage workers, who are now considered “essential.” She states, “We are the same people that they did not think were worth $15 an hour, but now realize we are worth more than that. I’ve been there 19 years and I don’t even make $15 an hour… I have to work more than a week to get one hour of sick time.”
Bartolire Perez has worked at McDonald’s for 30 years and has participated in many strikes. He says, “This time is different. The next hamburger I make may be my last.”
Low wage workers, now called “essential,” are now on a level with doctors and nurses. They are largely Black, Hispanic, and women, and continue to put their lives at risk, providing food and personal goods at a retail level. Meatpacking plants across the country have shown just how vulnerable workers are. However, media coverage of the struggling workers during the political campaign more often focus on blue-collar manufacturing workers, mostly white men.
The voices of workers themselves are largely absent from the debates, discussions and decisions that shape their future. Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, a $13 billion international social justice philanthropy, has said “Too often the discussion about the future of work centers on technology rather than on the people who will be affected by it.”
When a president or senator talks about how good the economy is, I want to ask, “For whom?” In the last three years the top 1% in the country have done very well, with a generous tax cut. Several large corporations have paid no taxes. Those who have money in the stock market have done very well, however, how many “essential workers” or “heroes” own stock?”
Pope Francis challenges all willing to listen:
“The struggle of working people, of the poor, is not a social or political question, it is the Gospel, pure and simple. We are called to stand in solidarity with the poor, promote human dignity and the common good.”
This is an important time to ask those running for national office what legislation they will initiate or support to bring justice to “essential workers.” How valuable is their work? How valuable are their lives?
Can you live on $7.25 an hour? I invite you to contact you representative/senator and ask that question.