Interfaith Worker Justice

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Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan religious organization that educates and mobilizes the religious people of all faiths in the United States on issues important to working people.

IWJ is governed by a 40-member board of directors.[1] The president of the board is the Rev. Dr. Paul H Sherry, a senior pastor at the Riverside Church in New York City.[2] The executive director is Kim Bobo.

Religious labor movement[edit]

Religious organizations and the American labor movement have a long history of interaction and mutual support. But large, formal, national organizations can be traced only to the early part of the 1900s, and most had folded by the 1960s.

In 1910, the Rev. Charles Stelzle, a Presbyterian Church pastor, established the Labor Temple in New York City. The Labor Temple was a church but also a meeting space, union hiring hall, and school. Stelzle, a proponent of the social gospel, promoted the establishment of similar Labor Temples nationwide (although many of them were secular in nature). For years, the New York City Labor Temple was the center of the city's union life. But most local Labor Temple movements did not survive the 1930s.[3]

That same year, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) undertook a program called "Labor Forward". The program, which lasted until 1920, took place in approximately 150 cities across the United States. It was designed to convince workers of the labor movement's commitment to Christian ideals and labor-management cooperation.[4]

In 1920, the organization later known as the National Farm Worker Ministry was founded to support agricultural workers. The organization was originally called the Council of Women for Home Missions, and its mission was to provide day-care for workers' children. In 1926, the organization changed its name to the National Migrant Ministry, and was now sponsored by the Federal Council of Churches (the forerunner to the National Council of Churches). By 1939, the organization had established workers' rights and worker support programs in 15 states. The California Migrant Ministry played a key role in supporting Cesar Chavez and the founding of the United Farm Workers.[5]

In 1932, the Federal Council of Churches established the National Religion and Labor Foundation (later called the Religion and Labor Council of America). The foundation was organized by Willard Uphaus, a professor at Yale Divinity School. It sponsored internships and fellowships for religious people within labor unions, supported programs for seminary students to attend the AFL (and, later CIO) conventions, and advocated on behalf of workers in various labor disputes. For many years, it published the newsletter Just Economics, which pushed progressive economic policies. But the organization dissolved in 1966.[6]

A variety of Catholic-sponsored pro-labor movements also sprung up during the 1930s. In 1933, the Catholic Worker Movement, founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, began to support labor unions as means to ensure worker justice. In 1937, John Cort founded the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists, an organization of Catholic trade union members and supporters. Similarly, 1936 saw the organization of hundreds of Catholic "labor schools"—adult education centers which taught industrial relations, collective bargaining and employment law to workers. The labor school movement was sponsored by the National Catholic Welfare Conference (forerunner to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Most schools were organized by local priests, dioceses and/or Catholic colleges. Although more than 150 labor schools were initially established, by 1956 only 49 were still operating. In 1962 there were only 15, and in 2007 only one (in Boston, Massachusetts).[7]

In 1934, leaders of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, the Jewish Labor Bund, the United Hebrew Trades and other organizations founded the Jewish Labor Committee. The secular organization was founded to organize opposition to the rise of Nazism in Germany - see particularly Gail Malmgreen's article, below. Today, the organization works as the liaison agency linking the organized Jewish community and organized labor. The organization, has national offices in New York, with local staffed offices and/or lay-led groups in Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Phoenix, Cleveland and elsewhere.[8]

Founding IWJ[edit]

Kim Bobo founded Interfaith Worker Justice in 1991 as Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues. Bobo had previously been director of organizing at Bread for the World and an instructor at the Midwest Academy. In 1989, Bobo became involved with workers' rights campaigns for coal miners. She was startled to find that almost no religious organizations had labor liaisons. She started an informal network of religious leaders to share information about campaigns for worker justice that year.

In 1991, Bobo founded the Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues. It was an all-volunteer group led by Bobo and four influential Chicago religious leaders.[9]

In 1996, using a $5,000 inheritance from her grandmother, Bobo launched the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice. The organization initially was run out of her home.[9]

By 1998, the organization had 29 affiliates throughout the country. The group changed its name to Interfaith Worker Justice in 2005, by which time it had grown to 59 local affiliates and a full-time staff of 10.[9]

IWJ has been active on a number of worker's rights and worker justice issues. It has taken a lead role in criticizing Wal-Mart for forcing employees to work off the clock, not providing affordable or comprehensive health insurance, and refusing to pay an adequate wage.[10] In 2006, the group sued the United States Department of Labor to obtain the names of migrant agricultural workers who had been victims of unpaid overtime.[11] It has also been active in supporting higher wages for workers and the use of unionized laborers in the reconstruction of New Orleans, and condemned the importation of lower-paid illegal immigrants to displace American workers.[12]

Interfaith Worker Justice also sponsors "Seminary Summer." In the annual program, IWJ places student ministers, priests, rabbis and imams with AFL-CIO affiliates so that these emerging religious leaders can participate in worker justice campaigns and learn about labor issues.[13]

Post-AFL-CIO breakup issues[edit]

The disaffiliation of several AFL-CIO unions in 2005 led to several significant problems for IWJ. Over half of IWJ's Seminary Summer students worked with unions that split from the AFL-CIO. The split forced the AFL-CIO to halve its donations to IWJ. The split also significantly impaired the ability of the AFL-CIO's state and central labor bodies to conduct their work. IWJ relied heavily on these bodies for staff and money; the bodies also sponsored the IWJ/AFL-CIO annual "Labor in the Pulpit/on the Bimah/in the Minbar" program placed pro-union speakers in houses of worship during Labor Day weekend.[13]

Some of these issues were resolved in late 2006. In August 2006, the AFL-CIO executive council approved a resolution permitting the organization to formalize ties with worker centers, worker assistance groups, and other pro-labor organizations. In December 2006, the AFL-CIO signed a partnership agreement with Interfaith Worker Justice which renewed the AFL-CIO's support for IWJ. The partnership agreement was labeled "mostly symbolic" but initiated state and local planning efforts for ongoing and new programs.[14]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Historian Will Durant lectured there in 1917, and organized the Labor Temple School for adult education in 1921. Stelzle, The Church and the Labor Movement, 1910; Stelzle, Son of the Bowery: The Life Story of an East Side American, 1971; Gray, "Streetscapes: Readers' Questions; A Converted Orphanage, and a Stickley Connection?", New York Times, December 6, 1992.
  4. ^ Fones-Wolf and Fones-Wolf, "Trade-Union Evangelism: Religion and the AFL in the Labor Forward Movement," Working-Class America, 1983.
  5. ^ The program still exists in 2007. Hoffman, Ministry of the Dispossessed: Learning from the Farm Worker Movement, 1987.
  6. ^ Professor, minister and workers' rights activist A. J. Muste sat on the foundation's board of directors. Fones-Wolf and Fones-Wolf, "Lending a Hand to Labor: James Myers and the Federal Council of Churches, 1926-1947," Church History, March 1999; McConnell, "Minister Didn't Fear Red Scare," Concord Monitor, February 5, 1999.
  7. ^ "The Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker," Catholic Worker, May 2002; Zwick and Zwick, The Catholic Worker Movement, 2005; Betten, Catholic Activism and the Industrial Worker, 1977; Brother Justin, "The Study of Industrial and Labor Relations in Catholic Colleges," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, October 1949; Seaton, Catholics and Radicals, 1981; Boyle, "At Work in the Vineyard: The Jesuit Labor Apostolate," In All Things, March 2000.
  8. ^ Will Herberg, "The Jewish Labor Movement in the United States," American Jewish Year Book, 1952; Gail Malmgreen, "Labor and the Holocaust: The Jewish Labor Committee and the Anti-Nazi Struggle," Labor's Heritage, October 1991.
  9. ^ a b c "Interfaith Worker Justice: Organizational Profile," Marguerite Casey Foundation, 2005.
  10. ^ Alter, "Faith-Based Groups Take Aim at Wal-Mart," Miami Herald, November 12, 2005.
  11. ^ Greenhouse, "Group Sues Labor Dept. to Get Names of Workers," New York Times, January 19, 2006.
  12. ^ DeSue, "Nonprofits Call for Fairness, Equity in GO Zone," Bond Buyer, April 6, 2006.
  13. ^ a b Berkshire, "More Perfect Unions? Big Labor's Split Causes Confusion, Opportunity for Charities," Chronicle of Philanthropy, September 1, 2005.
  14. ^ "AFL-CIO Joins Partnership With Faith Group," Chicago Tribune, December 13, 2006.


  • "AFL-CIO Joins Partnership With Faith Group." Chicago Tribune. December 13, 2006.
  • "The Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker." Catholic Worker. May 2002.
  • Alter, Alexandra. "Faith-Based Groups Take Aim at Wal-Mart." Miami Herald. November 12, 2005.
  • Berkshire, Jennifer C. "More Perfect Unions? Big Labor's Split Causes Confusion, Opportunity for Charities." Chronicle of Philanthropy. September 1, 2005.
  • Betten, Neil. Catholic Activism and the Industrial Worker. Gainesville, Fla.: University Press of Florida, 1977. ISBN 0-8130-0503-5
  • Boyle, Edward F. "At Work in the Vineyard: The Jesuit Labor Apostolate." In All Things. March 2000.
  • Brother Justin. "The Study of Industrial and Labor Relations in Catholic Colleges." Industrial and Labor Relations Review. 3:1 (October 1949).
  • DeSue, Tedra. "Nonprofits Call for Fairness, Equity in GO Zone." Bond Buyer. April 6, 2006.
  • Estey, Ken. A New Protestant Labor Ethic at Work. Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8298-1439-6
  • Fones-Wolf, Elizabeth and Fones-Wolf, Ken. "Lending a Hand to Labor: James Myers and the Federal Council of Churches, 1926-1947." Church History. March 1999.
  • Fones-Wolf, Elizabeth and Fones-Wolf, Kenneth. "Trade-Union Evangelism: Religion and the AFL in the Labor Forward Movement." In Working-Class America: Essays on Labor, Community, and American Society. Michael H. Frisch and Daniel J. Walkowitz, eds. Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1983. ISBN 0-252-00954-1
  • Gray, Christopher. "Streetscapes: Readers' Questions; A Converted Orphanage, and a Stickley Connection?" New York Times. December 6, 1992.
  • Greenhouse, Steven. "Group Sues Labor Dept. to Get Names of Workers." New York Times. January 19, 2006.
  • Harrison, Judy. "Labor of Faith: Muslim, Methodist Team Up for Workplace Awareness." Bangor Daily News. August 12, 2006.
  • Herberg, Will. "The Jewish Labor Movement in the United States." American Jewish Year Book. New York: American Jewish Committee, 1952.
  • Hoffman, Pat. Ministry of the Dispossessed: Learning from the Farm Worker Movement. Los Angeles, Calif.: Wallace Press, 1987. ISBN 0-941181-00-6
  • "Interfaith Worker Justice: Organizational Profile." Marguerite Casey Foundation. Seattle: May 2005.
  • Malmgreen, Gail. "Labor and the Holocaust: The Jewish Labor Committee and the Anti-Nazi Struggle." Labor's Heritage. October 1991.
  • Marcucci, Michele R. "State's Clergy Unifies on Progressive Causes." San Mateo County Times. October 30, 2006.
  • McConnell, Amy. "Minister Didn't Fear Red Scare." Concord Monitor. February 5, 1999.
  • McLaughlin, Nancy. "Johnson Elected Justice Network's Board President." Greensboro News & Record. January 29, 2005.
  • Seaton, Douglas P. Catholics and Radicals: The Association of Catholic Trade Unionists and the American Labor Movement, from Depression to Cold War. Philadelphia, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1981. ISBN 0-8387-2193-1
  • Simon, Stephanie. "Labor and Religion Reunite." Los Angeles Times. July 17, 2005.
  • Stelzle, Charles. The Church and the Labor Movement. Philadelphia, Pa.: American Baptist Publication Society, 1910.
  • Stelzle, Charles. Son of the Bowery: The Life Story of an East Side American. Reprint ed. Stratford, N.H.: Ayer Company Publishers, 1971. ISBN 0-8369-6669-4
  • Zwick, Mark and Zwick, Louise. The Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual And Spiritual Origins. Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8091-4315-1

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