by Sue A. Larson
About 15 years ago, I agreed to be part of forming an interfaith religion/labor coalition that focused on the concerns of people, primarily Hispanics, who experienced unfair working conditions in their workplaces in southern Wisconsin.
A 2001 report, “Can’t Afford to Lose a Bad Job,” found challenging concerns. Workers had to juggle several low-wage jobs, unstable and inflexible work schedules, dangerous working conditions, fear of reprisals for any complaints, unequal treatment, harassment, high rents and crowded homes, lack of safe or affordable child care or health care, little sleep and enormous stress.
The stories in the report were often heart-rending. One woman worked from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. cleaning classrooms and offices, then worked at a food establishment for eight hours, followed by janitorial work at a temp agency for four hours. She was sleeping three hours a night.
Many wondered why these workers put up with such conditions, but there was an even worse, often far more dangerous life in the nations from which many had come.
As Martin Luther explained in the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer in his Large Catechism (“Give us this day our daily bread”), God intends for all people to have “everything required to satisfy our bodily needs, such as food and clothing, house and home, fields and flocks, money and property.” Luther saw the process of obtaining what we need through our labor as a holy act.
As Christians, we are encouraged to remember that wherever we work, we have opportunities to live out our baptismal calling in lives of witness and service.We must live as informed citizens, aware of how our food is produced and harvested, of the lives of garment workers who produce our clothing and the work environments of those who work in restaurants, motels or other service industries.
In doing so, we play a role in ensuring that all who lay their hands to any useful task may receive just rewards for their work. We rejoice in the knowledge that all labor is valued in the eyes of God.
The Rev. Sue Larson is an ELCA pastor and a former ELCA public policy director. She lives in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, with her husband, Terry, who is also an ELCA pastor. The full article is in the September issue of Gather magazine.
Photo by Tom Waterhouse, Creative Commons.