As Catholic and Jewish leaders, we believe in the sacred value of silence for meditation, contemplation, prayer and discernment.
Yet there are other instances when people of faith must not remain silent — times when we are called to stand in the public square and lift up our voices. Now, 100 days into the Trump administration, we are compelled to speak out for the “forgotten men and women” President Donald Trump claimed to champion during his campaign.
One such person is Justin, a customer service employee in Wichita. He’s on the front lines of keeping T-Mobile’s customers happy, which isn’t an easy task. When he and his coworkers began organizing to ask for better working conditions, fair schedules, and more job security, the company fought back with gag rules, threats and even surveillance.
Ana came to the United States in 2005 to escape the horrific violence in her home country, El Salvador. Her story is harrowing — she crossed Guatemala and Mexico on her own to get here and has been working to support her sick husband and three young daughters ever since. As a cafeteria worker in the U.S. Senate, she was victimized by wage theft and paid less than she had earned.
Yaya is a Muslim from Senegal and legal permanent resident. He came to the United States in 2012 to enjoy the blessings of freedom and opportunity. He worked for minimum wage at federal building in our nation’s capital, cleaning dirty tables, carrying bins of dishes, and scrubbing pans. His paychecks were small, but he sent his family in Dakar $200 every month to help them get by.
At first glance, these three working men and women might seem to have little in common with each other — they are black, white and Latina and they follow different religious traditions. But their experience is similar. Each works hard every day to provide for themselves and their families. Each struggles to enjoy the fruits of their labor. And each are deserving of better treatment by their employer.
The United States is a land of great abundance. But too many workers like Yaya, Ana and Justin are unable to thrive because forces beyond their control keep holding them back. Low-wage workers like Yaya and Ana struggle simply to feed, clothe and shelter themselves and their children. Immoral practices such as wage theft lead to deeper poverty and despair. And when these workers organize to improve their situation, they can face intimidation and even the loss of their jobs.
When Trump was a candidate, he vowed to make life better for America’s workers. He said every decision he made would pass this simple test: “Does it create more jobs and better wages?” Unfortunately, Trump has failed his own his own test. Even worse, he’s failing workers like Yaya, Ana and Justin.
Already, Trump has revoked President Barack Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule aimed at protecting 20 million federal contract workers like Yaya, Ana and Justin from unsafe working conditions and wage theft. Moreover, he’s standing silently by as the Republican-controlled Congress works to repeal living wage laws for construction workers on federal projects. And he supports so-called “Right to Work” legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would make it harder for workers to join together and organize for better pay and benefits.
Sadly, Trump’s actions will not reverse our own government role as America’s leading low-wage job creator. As people of faith — and as taxpayers — we believe this is immoral. It needs to change. And it can. The president has the power to issue an executive order giving preference in government contracting to model employers who provide their workers a living wage, decent healthcare and retirement benefits, paid leave for illness and caregiving, stable schedules and a voice through collective bargaining.
The president has the power to urge Congress to take legislative action to promote $15 minimum wage legislation and the freedom to form a union.
That’s why a broad coalition faith organizations has sent a letter to Trump calling on him to use his power to create more jobs and better wages, help lift millions out of poverty and secure a brighter future for us all — including Yaya, Ana and Justin.
We may not all share the same theology and religious practices but our faith traditions — and many others around the world — teach that every worker deserves justice, dignity and respect. We will pray for it. But we will also fight for it. Our faith demands nothing less.
[Social Service Sr. Simone Campbell is the executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice and leader of the “Nuns on the Bus” campaign. Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block is the director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, where he works to bring the voices of progressive American Jews into the halls of power in Washington, D.C.]