By Lisa Maldonado Robinson/ Escondido Democratic Club
It takes an hourly wage of $13.09 and a full-time job to be able “to make ends meet” in San Diego County, according to Lisa Maldonado Robinson of the Interfaith Center for Worker Justice (ICWJ). Robinson spoke to Escondido Democrats at their April 12 meeting about the ICWJ’s ongoing program in San Diego County in which religious leaders strive “to lift workers out of poverty.” The program has a North County component and Robinson described efforts to organize workers at Casino Pauma and Northgate Markets.
ICWJ is made up of 200 faith leaders who follow several basic principles:
- That every person should be able to work one full-time job and be able to provide for themselves and their family,
- That every person should have access to “full family” health care,
- That a company should respect its workers right to organize, and
- That every worker should be treated with dignity and respect.
Robinson said ICWJ conducts a “worker solidarity” campaign, and described efforts to organize Casino Pauma. “They want a voice on the job” she said, such as a grievance process, seniority, to negotiate wages and to gain affordable health care. She described how workers had signed a petition, but the tribe would not accept it.
ICWJ also has a policy campaign that addresses issues from a living wage to the Affordable Care Act. The group also conducts an education program “to get people informed on a variety of topics,” she reported. Robinson said ICWJ has been surprised at the response for a “Lunch & Learn” program for faith leaders that creates “a scared space to ask difficult questions” and “to learn about one another and how our traditions compel us to work for social justice in our community.”
Robinson described several areas of concern. One was human trafficking. Most of us think of that as sex trafficking, but in fact there is a lot of labor trafficking, she said, and it occurs right here in San Diego County. ICWJ is holding an “Interfaith Summit on Ending Human Trafficking in San Diego” on May 8 at Point Loma Nazarene University. She also described a program to help security officers. Paid only about $10.50 per hour, they often have to work several jobs to support their families. She told the story of Andrea, wh0 worked five jobs to scratch out a living for her four kids only to have two of the children taken from her by Child Protective Services because she worked so much. “That was when she knew she had to do something,” Robinson related. So Andrea started to organize at work for a union.
Robinson went on to describe efforts to organize Northgate Markets, where genuinely concerned management that sometimes helps workers has to be educated to the need for more structure for that support. ICWJ has worked to bring the owner together with labor officials for a meeting.
For fast-food workers trying to gain higher wages, ICWJ has a program where faith leaders accompany workers as they report in for the first day after picketing their store. “It’s really scary,” she said as she described the feelings of many of the workers. So a pastor goes with them as they report to work, asking their manager “not to retaliate against this worker because she has gone out on strike.” Doing this reassures the worker, she noted, but also delivers a message to the manager that someone is watching how the worker is treated.
“We are more than just workers,” she said, “we’re people. We must respect workers’ dignity as persons.” She said ICWJ holds a monthly meeting in North County and invited members of the audience to contact her to sign up for emails that would keep them informed of ICWJ issues and activities. Her email is Elizabeth (at) ICWJ.org.