Fight for Fifteen Press Conference 2019

 

Economic Justice as a UU Value

The issues UULM-MD cares about are interrelated, with causes deeply rooted in our society’s history and structures of white supremacy, runaway capitalism, and patriarchy. 

  • Our efforts to reform criminal justice and hold police accountable are directly related to unresolved racial justice issues. 
  • The economic justice and climate change legislation we support is related to the domination of our economy by corporations and wealthy elites. 
  • Respect for the rights and dignity of women requires challenging persistent domination by an entrenched patriarchy.   

Given the intersectionality of these issues, our work is focused on dismantling oppressive social, economic and legal structures. And events at the national level have made the need for this work even more apparent and urgent. We are called to do this work of building the Beloved Community in our State, to provide a haven for the vulnerable, and to show a successful alternative to the politics of division, callousness and hate. 

The capitalist economic system that created a high standard of living and created a large, robust middle class in the mid-20th Century has been manipulated by wealthy elites (often using government tools) to benefit the obscenely rich at the expense of everyone else, reversing many protections given to workers through earlier government and union action. We are working to assure that workers have a living wage, earned sick leave to care for themselves and loved ones, and fair compensation. 

From a larger perspective, we can see that business leaders in every state have had great success convincing legislators that the state needs to be “business-friendly," and this has created a bias against legislation aimed at improving the lot of workers, consumers and the public at large. I believe that states that embrace this “business-friendly” attitude are in danger of becoming societies that resemble the company towns of the industrial revolution where the residents are so dependent on a dominant business that they never speak out on their own behalf for fear of job loss and financial ruin. 

Our support for specific legislation, therefore, requires working on the larger issue of changing the attitude of lawmakers towards greater recognition of worker rights and needs. After all, the workers actually produce what the capitalist sells and profits from. And as a faith group, our moral voice has a greater impact than that of unions which are seen by many lawmakers as merely self-serving.  

Background - Escalating Inequality

Escalating Inequality was selected by the 2014 General Assembly as the 2014 - 2018 Congregational Study/Action Issue. From the Escalating Inequality Study Guide:
 
"Challenging extreme inequality is a moral imperative. The escalation of inequality undergirds so many injustices which our faith movement is committed to addressing: from economic injustice to mass incarceration; from migrant injustice to climate change; from sexual and gender injustice to attacks on voting rights.
 
"Class is a foundational aspect of our culture, permeating our sense of self, our opportunities in life, our relationships, our practice of religion, and much more. Deepening our understanding of inequality requires us to engage with our own understandings and experiences of class and expand our ability to build relationships across class differences. This work can lead to deep spiritual growth.
 
"Expanding wealth gaps and rising economic inequality illuminate a moral crisis in the United States and our world. Working toward our goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all requires us to understand this crisis, how we got here, the connections between the many different systems/manifestations of inequality, and the profound impacts of the current state of affairs.
 
"As people of faith, we can change the world by changing how we are together. Engaging faithfully with escalating inequality requires us to examine our congregational life, asking how we can practice dismantling inequality and classism within our community of faith and how we can create congregations that are truly welcoming and inclusive of all.
 
"How we take action can matter as much as whether we take action. What is most honest and unique about how Unitarian Universalists approach the issues of classism and economic injustice? In pursuit of sustainability and effectiveness in our justice ministries, we must discover and offer to our wider communities that which is most deeply true about ourselves."
 
UULM-MD Action To Date
 
In 2014, we supported legislation that increased the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2018.
 
In 2015, we helped pass pay equity measures to address the continuing gap in compensation between white men on the one hand and women and minorities on the other. The legislation:
  • strengthened and expanded equal pay for equal work laws in Maryland to all employers, by ensuring that businesses cannot penalize employees for discussing salaries.
  • Prohibited employers from paying disparate wages
  • Allowed for greater sunlight on currently existing pay disparities and broadens existing State standards used to determine whether unlawful compensation discrimination exists.
  • Specified that the Attorney General can also enforce pay discrimination claims, and
  • Prohibited employers from providing less favorable employment opportunities based on gender

In 2017, the General Assembly passed the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act (HB 1) which requires an employer with more than 14 employees to have a sick and safe leave policy under which an employee earns at least 1 hour of paid sick and safe leave, at the same rate as the employee normally earns, for every 30 hours an employee works. An employer with 14 or fewer employees, based on the average monthly number of employees during the preceding year, must have a sick and safe leave policy that provides an employee with at least 1 hour of unpaid sick and safe leave for every 30 hours an employee works. Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed the bill. 

In 2018, we supported successful efforts to override the Governor’s veto and fight off delaying legislation, thereby assuring that Maryland workers have a right to earn sick leave.

Going Forward

In 2019, UULM-MD is supporting the "Fight for Fifteen" to further increase the state minimum wage. The legislation will:

  • provide a minimum wage of $15 per hour by 2023 with increases indexed to the cost of living beginning in 2023,
  • allow local governments to provide minimum wages in excess of the proposed state minimum wage,
  • remove exceptions for young workers,
  • provide increases in the minimum wage for tipped workers to $15 by 2026, and
  • provide increased funding for community service providers to accommodate the minimum wage increase. 

See the Maryland Fight for $15 coalition at http://ff15maryland.org/.