“Labor in the Pulpits”

Each year, during Labor Day weekend, churches around the United States take part in an initiative called “Labor in the Pulpits.” Coordinated by Interfaith Worker Justice, it depends on clergy to use their homilies to address issues of importance to workers.

This year’s theme is “fair development,” described as “making sure that monies invested in companies to build the economy are fair to the residents of those communities,” according to Meghan Cohorst of UNITE HERE, a union for workers in the hotel, restaurant and garment industries.

One case in point: Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. “The concession program there, where many of the workers work, is run by a private, for-profit company, not by the airport: Airmall USA, which has a very long-term, lucrative contract with the state of Maryland,” Cohorst said.

“Since January, workers have been organizing around a ‘workers’ bill of rights’ to address issues of job security (and) full-time work,” Cohorst said. “But the workers report they’re having all of these issues, allegedly being intimidated,” she added. “There had been some anti-organizing activity where some of the concessionaries had charges filed against them by the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board).”

According to a 2011 study issued by an organization called Good Jobs First, the median wage for concessions workers at many of the airport’s eateries and newsstands was $8.50 an hour.

About 50 churches in the Baltimore area will have labor-related preaching in their pulpit this weekend. with workers present in those houses of worship, Cohorst said. Among them will be four or five Catholic churches celebrating a total of 11 Masses.