Faithfully seeking justice with workers in the Memphis area

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    Frequently Asked Questions

What is a living wage?
A living wage, as opposed to the minimum wage, is one that is enough to lift you and your family out of poverty.

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. At this level, a full-time, minimum wage worker earns only $15,080 a year. Dr. David Ciscel’s studyWhat is a Living Wage for Memphis? updated in 2010, found that in a family of four where both parents work, each parent needs to earn at least $11.62 an hour to meet basic needs. WIN members are currently urging the University of Memphis to pay all their workers at least $11.62 an hour.

Earlier living wage legislation passed in the Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission varies in much a living wage is defined, from $10 - $12.72 an hour.

Doesn’t paying living wages cause employers to lay off other workers?
Research studies completed in a number of cities with local living wage laws have found they had little to no impact on unemployment. Employers often receive some financial benefits from paying living wages, such as reduced turnover and training costs. This helps offset the increased cost of paying a living wage.

What is wage theft?
Wage theft happens whenever an employer pays you less than the law requires. This can include being paid below the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, not getting overtime pay*, being told to work off the clock, not getting all your customers’ tips, or not receiving a final paycheck. If you think you’ve been a victim of wage theft, contact WIN’s Memphis Workers’ Center. 

*Most, but not all, workers are entitled to overtime pay when you work more than 40 hours in one work week.

Isn’t wage theft just a problem for illegal immigrants?
No. Wage theft is a serious problem for native born workers, legal immigrants, and undocumented immigrants. While some of the most shocking cases of wage theft are carried out against undocumented workers, the largest amounts that are stolen from workers are in unpaid overtime from workers who are U.S. citizens.

Do you ask workers about their immigration status before you partner with them?
Our faith teachings are clear that we are commanded to seek justice for both our immigrant neighbors and those who were born in this nation. U.S. labor law is also very clear in protecting the rights of all who work to minimum wages, safe working conditions, and an environment free from discrimination. Even if you are an undocumented immigrant, it is still against the law for your employer to not pay you or deny you workers’ compensation if you get hurt.

Therefore, WIN does not ask workers about their immigration status. Your status is irrelevant from both a legal and a moral perspective as we work with you.

Why does faith have to do with workers’ rights?
All major religions teach the importance of justice, including justice for the worker. Work should be a means of expressing the dignity that God has given each of us. Unfortunately, work can also be a means of exploiting many people for the benefit of just a few. 

God asks people of faith to look differently at our economy than others in our society might. For example, Catholic Social Teaching stresses that the fundamental measure of an economy is how poor and vulnerable people are faring within that economy. 

We invite you to explore the teachings of your specific faith tradition more deeply on the topic of workers’ rights. You can begin with these resources from Interfaith Worker Justice, our national organization.

Are unions really needed anymore to protect workers’ rights?
We live in an economic system that’s devoted more to the bottom-line than to people. Most corporate decisions that hurt workers are not driven by malice, but rather a desire to increase profits or compete in the global market. In this changing economy, individual workers need an organized voice to challenge the priorities of companies.

In our society, unions are the primary vehicles for worker representation. Over the years, unions have also been advocates for workers throughout society, not just their own members. Without unions, workers would lack a systemic way to come together to advocate for better pay, health care, retirement benefits, safe working conditions, and more. To learn more about why unions are relevant, take a look at this excellent resource from Interfaith Worker Justice.

Why should I become a member of Workers Interfaith Network?
If you want to see Mid-South workers earn living wages and be treated fairly at work, we invite you to become the newest member of WIN. Our communities cannot thrive unless we have more good jobs that can sustain a family.

Gifts from members like you are our largest source of financial support at WIN. Without the generosity of people like you, Workers Interfaith Network simply would not exist. Workers would not a place to turn to when their wages are stolen. Groups of workers trying to organize together wouldn’t have a way to ask for the support of the faith community. Your membership gift helps ensure that WIN is here for workers who need us.

How will you use my donation?
Your donation will be used to educate and organize workers and people of faith, so that together we can take action for justice. Your gift will make it possible for WIN to:
• Advocate for a living wage for workers at the University of Memphis
• Partner with workers to get their stolen wages back from employers
• Organize the faith community to stop severe cuts against public workers and violations of their rights

How much do you spend on overhead?
Rest assured, your gift will be used efficiently. We exceed the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance’s recommendation that nonprofits spend at least 65% of their total expenses on program activities. Currently, WIN spends 74% on program activities (organizing and education), 19% on fundraising, and 7% on administration.

WIN’s fundraising costs may be slightly higher than some other nonprofits you are familiar with. This is because we place a priority on raising a portion of our funds directly from low-wage workers and other people who are not able to give large gifts at one time. We want workers to be a part of WIN in every aspect of our work, from giving to organizing. However, raising smaller amounts of money from many people does cost a bit more than raising larger amounts of money from fewer people.

Problems of workplace injustice are so big. Can we really change them?
Creating justice in the workplace is certainly a challenging mission. But here in Memphis and across the country, we have seen time and time again that when enough people come together to organize, change can happen. WIN members like you first proved this when we won a living wage for City workers and workers on City contracts in 2006.

Some City Council members had written off our efforts because the City had recently faced a budget deficit. But the persistent organizing by a growing number of Mid-Southerners led to victory.

While it’s very difficult to change injustice by yourself, when we work together in a smart, focused way, we can bring about justice.

How do you decide which issues and campaigns to take on?
At our Workers’ Center, we take cases of wage theft, injuries, and discrimination in which the worker has shown a commitment to be involved in his or her case. Our initial research must also indicate that a labor law has been broken for WIN to accept the case.

In our living wage and worker rights campaigns, WIN decides to take on a campaign for one of two reasons. Our board of directors and Workers’ Center steering committee may have identified a particular employer or proposed law as one that will have a significant impact on many workers. Or, we may have been asked for support by a group of workers who are organizing together already.

In both these situations, we consider carefully whether our members' involvement in the campaign will make a significant difference to low-wage workers facing injustice.

What rights do I have as a worker?
You have the right to be paid at least the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour for all the hours you work. In many cases, you also have the right to overtime pay for any hours above 40 hours that you work in a week.

You have the right to workers’ compensation if you are injured on the job.

You have a right to a safe workplace.

You have the right to organize together with your co-workers, including organizing with a union, without being harassed or fired by your employer.

You have a right to a workplace free from discrimination based on your race, nationality, gender, age, disability, religion, or union activity.
For more detailed information, see our know your rights page.

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  • The members of Workers Interfaith Network – people just like you – have won living wages and fair working conditions with thousands of workers.
  • By speaking up and taking action, you can join us in advancing the rights of Mid-South workers.
  • Learn more about what our members have accomplished