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The Racial and Ethnic Concerns Working Group of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta (UUCA) sponsored the 2008 Action of Immediate Witness for raising the federal minimum wage to $10 in 2010. Barbara Burnham, Co-Chair of Racial and Ethnic Concerns, shepherded the Action of Immediate Witness (AIW) at General Assembly (GA). “We have tied our work for just wages to our anti-racism work because a disproportionate number of people of color are low-wage workers. It is one of the ways that institutional racism operates and so it is one of the ways that we have to intentionally dismantle systemic racism. It’s important for people to understand low-wage workers support many of us who have unearned privilege and that we can do something about that by working for higher wages and closing the enormous gap that exists between low-wage workers and CEOs.”

The mission of the Racial and Ethnic Concerns Working Group is to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the congregation and denomination and to work together for racial and economic justice with others in our congregation, community, nation, and world. Initially the group focused on racial justice, but through book discussions they deepened their understanding of the interrelationship between racial justice and economic justice.

The congregation is a member of the Georgia Living Wage Coalition and has been at the center of efforts to raise the state minimum wage in Georgia. They are also members of the national Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign which has partnered with state efforts. The Georgia Living Wage Coalition is working to bring the state minimum wage up to the federal rate, to cover Georgia workers not included under the federal minimum wage. They are also advocating for increasing the minimum wage for tipped workers, currently at $2.13 an hour and to include workers now excluded by federal and state law, including domestic, home health and agricultural workers.

Outreach to the faith community has been an important strategy in the effort to raise the Georgia minimum wage. Rev. Marti Keller, Assistant Minister for UUCA, was successful in getting the ministers of all of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations in Georgia to sign a letter of support to raise the state minimum wage. This was quite a feat since these congregations are in three different UUA Districts.

Another strategy is to get employers to sign a letter of support. Last year on July 24 the Georgia Living Wage Coalition held a press conference at a local pizzeria whose owner had signed the letter of support. Women who would benefit from an increase in the state minimum wage shared their personal stories.

Last year on Labor Day weekend, Rev. Marti Keller preached a sermon at UUCA on the rights of low wage workers. Members of UUCA gave over $1000 to the Georgia Minimum Wage Campaign in a Give Away the Plate collection on that day.

On Wednesday, February 27, 2008, the coalition held a news conference outside the Georgia Capital building to demonstrate public support for House Bill 845, which will increase the state minimum wage for workers who are exempt from the federal minimum wage. Unfortunately, those in power in the Georgia Legislature did not allow the bill to have a hearing before the appropriate committee. Efforts are being made to find bipartisan support to introduce a new bill in January 2009 to raise the Georgia minimum wage.

The AIW that was passed at the 2008 General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, urges UU congregations and individuals to participate in the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign by educating themselves about poverty and requirements for a minimum standard of living; holding Let Justice Roll Living Wage rallies, workshops and worship services on the weekend of January 9-11, 2008; signing the $10 by 2010 Faith Leaders Letter to Congress; participating in other Let Justice Roll activities; and advocating with low wage workers.

An excellent video about the Georgia campaign is posted on You Tube and includes UUs!

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