For $15 and a union

by Mary Ann McGivern

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I participated in a march and rally Wednesday to raise the minimum wage. There might have been 1,000 people gathered first at Washington University in St. Louis before the marching to several fast food restaurants. On Thursday, I was on the team to walk striking workers back to their jobs, reminding their bosses that these one-day strikes are legal and the National Labor Relations Board forbids employer retaliation.

The movement for $15 an hour and a union has spread to adjunct professors and home health workers. Somebody on the radio was complaining that he didn’t make $15 an hour, but, I said to myself, he should. Anybody who works full time should earn enough to support their family without food stamps, the federal children’s health insurance program, expanded Medicaid or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

I heard awhile back that bank tellers in New York City only get paid $11 an hour. That’s not enough to support a family there. I have no idea what they get paid in St. Louis. Without a union, we all hide our pay rates, making us even more vulnerable to employer power.

My alma mater Webster University, in Webster Groves, Mo., is under pressure to negotiate with its adjunct professors. The first step would be to ask for better scheduling so that if a course isn’t going to be held in the spring, the instructor can make a commitment to another school. And if the course doesn’t make -- that is, not enough students enroll -- the adjunct gets some payment for having prepared the course and being ready to teach.

This date, April 15, was set last year. I was surprised and wondered why the plan was in place so early, even though I knew there would be rallies in 200 cities. Then at the rally when I looked at the signs, I got the point: 4/15, we’re for $15 an hour. Yes, indeed. And a union.

In hearing that Vatican oversight of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is ended, I read that one point made in the resolution is that sisters agree to review papers to be published in the light of church teaching. In that spirit, I refer readers to “Rerum Novarum” (“Revolutionary Change”), the encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII on May 15, 1891 supporting labor unions.

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