Mar 10, 2014 | By Tom Cordaro, NETWORK Board Member
On March 6, prior to International Women’s Day, seven women religious leaders from Chicago and the Western Suburbs gathering in Naperville, Illinois to call for an increase in the minimum wage. The event was held in conjunction with press events around the country organized by Interfaith Worker Justice – a leader in the fight for economic and worker justice in the U.S. since 1996.
Moderating the event was Sr. Karen Nykiel, OSB, a member of Pax Christi Illinois, a chapter of Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement. Sr, Karen set the context of the event stating, “We are focusing on women at this event because more than 64%-- almost two-thirds -- of minimum wage workers are women.”
She went on to explain why this event was being held in a wealthy suburban city like Naperville, “Raising the minimum wage is not only an issue of importance in poor urban or rural communities in our nation. It is an important issue in communities like Naperville. Census figures show that poverty is growing at a faster rate in the suburbs then it is in urban areas. “
The first speaker, Rev. Elizabeth Bowes from the Glen Ellyn First United Methodist Church, began with a short history of the struggle to create the minimum wage in 1938 and how religious leaders from all faiths were united in that struggle. What these faith leaders had in common was that “they valued human dignity and thus desired to create a labor system that valued workers and treated them with fairness and respect.”
To illustrate how much value the minimum wage has lost over the years Rev. Bowes stated, “In 1968 when the minimum wages was $1.60/ hour you and your family of four could purchase an entire fast-food meal for one hour of work. Today at $7.25/hour – one hour of work can only buy one person a burrito at Chipotle or three cups of coffee from Starbuck’s.”
The next speaker was Sr. Kathleen Desautels, SP, from the 8th Day Center for Justice located in Chicago. The foundress of Kathleen’s community, St. Mother Theodore Guerin, had a strong commitment to raising the status of women in America. As Mother Guerin once stated, “Women in this country are only ¼ of the family. I hope, through the influence of religion and education that she will eventually become ½ - the better half.” Kathleen pointed out that “nearly 175 years latter women still only earn 77% of what men earn for same work.”
As important it is to raise the minimum wage, Sr. Kathleen reminded everyone, “The minimum wage is only a start, what we need is living wage. That is why the 8th Day Center for Justice has been involved in the campaign to raise the minimum wage in Chicago to $15/hour. Do we need an increase in the minimum wage? Absolutely! But let’s not stop there. Let’s continue the struggle for a living wage for every worker. ”