Unitarian Universalists Honor Workers’ Dignity and Support the Labor Movement

By Susan Frederick-Gray

Below is a statement from Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), honoring the dignity of workers and in support of the labor movement:

The UUA unequivocally sides with the inspiring labor resurgence happening in workplaces across the country. As Unitarian Universalists, we have long believed that challenging inequity locally and globally for workers is a moral imperative.

As a pragmatic faith, we are committed to working to change economic and social systems with a goal of equitable outcomes of life, dignity, and well-being experienced for all. The labor movement is critical to creating and strengthening an economic system that is fair and that addresses the economic injustices we know have been experienced by BIPOC individuals, low wage workers across sectors, and across gender and sexual orientations. We have worked together with diverse partners to ensure that the rights of workers are protected and we will continue to do so.

In 2000, we adopted a Statement of Conscience on economic injustice, poverty, and racism, and another Statement of Conscience in 2017 to address escalating economic inequality. And just last year, our national Unitarian Universalist General Assembly passed an Action of Immediate Witness on the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding that our commitment to justice, equity, and compassion, calls on us to join in solidarity with people fighting for living wages, healthcare, and a more fair economy.

Since then, we have shown up at the Poor People’s Campaign actions with Service Employees International Union, low wage workers, and faith leaders. Last year, I and other UU clergy and lay leaders were among 70 people who engaged in civil disobedience demanding $15 an hour minimum wage, an end to poverty, and protection of voting rights. UUs have joined mutual aid networks, and continue to organize to advocate for passage of the PRO Act (Protecting Our Right to Organize), which would empower union organizers at work, upgrade contractors to employee status, override state "right to work" laws, fine employers who try to stop unions, and more.

Our work is far from done. Across the country, we see continued attacks on the right to organize, which violates UU beliefs around interdependence and the inalienable rights inherent in the democratic process that we hold dear. For example, Tennessee legislators have put a "right to work" measure on the midterm ballot, and in Massachusetts, technology companies have mounted a huge attack on gig workers, putting millions of dollars into a ballot measure that would undermine workplace protections. There are also 31 measures across the country to privatize schools and disempower teachers, including anti-Critical Race Theory bills in several states.

And so, we must also act – to protect workers, to resist unfettered capitalism, to create a more just economic system, and to ensure that the rights of all, including Black, Indigenous, people of color and the LGBTQIA+ community. Supporting legislation like the Protect the Right to Organize Act is one way to get involved. Another is to lend our voices to efforts like the unionization of Starbucks. And our own UU the Vote effort is supporting ballot initiatives to increase the minimum wage in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska and Nevada. We just launched the UU The Vote effort for 2022, and we hope you will become involved.

Today, we are witnessing a growing labor movement built by and for working-class people that is pushing back against a system of exploitative capitalism that concentrates wealth in the hands of a few people. It is a movement coming alive from the bravery and brilliance of Black, Indigenous, and people of color, women, LGBTQIA+, undocumented immigrants, and poor and disabled communities. Poverty is a policy choice. Together we can pass legislation that honors workers’ dignity, values labor, and holds the quality of every life as sacred.

An economic system that produces record profits during the COVID-19 pandemic while plunging millions more people into poverty is immoral. 64% of people in the United State live paycheck to paycheck. Working class Americans pay a higher tax rate than billionaires, are hit hardest when rising gas prices make getting to work difficult or impossible, and suffer under a political economy that prioritizes profits over people.

Support Starbucks employees organizing in Buffalo NY by signing this petition.

As people of faith and conscience we rejoice in recent historic wins for workers at Starbucks and Amazon facilities, including successful unionization efforts in Buffalo and Staten Island. This is the righteous work of people joining together across differences to demand dignity, safety, and justice. The basic right and ability to live, to be housed, to access healthcare and be active members of thriving communities should not be an exclusive reward for labor. Our value and dignity is not calculated by hours we toil. It is our birthright.

As Unitarian Universalists, we affirm the practice of democracy in our institutions and our larger world. This is what democracy looks like. To those on the picket line, we say “Strike! Huelga! Yes we can! Si Se Puede!” To those unjustly and illegally fired from their jobs for union organizing, we want you to know that we are with you! And to all who believe in justice and democracy in our government, our communities and in our workplaces, we join you in solidarity.