Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What Is EFCA?

Employee Free Choice Act

Massive layoffs, record home foreclosures and skyrocketing health care costs are making it increasingly difficult for California’s working families to make ends meet. State unemployment jumped from 5.7 percent to 8.4 percent in the last year and with a $40 billion budget shortfall, the California job crisis is bound to get worse.

During these tough economic times, it’s more important than ever that workers have the freedom to bargain collectively with their employers for better wages, health care and retirement security. Workers who belong to unions earn, on average, 30 percent more than nonunion workers. They are 59 percent more likely to have employer-provided health coverage and four times more likely to have pensions. In fact, more than half of U.S. workers—nearly 60 million—say they would join a union right now if they could.

Unfortunately too few get that chance under the broken National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) process. The company-dominated election process gives employers ample time to run aggressive, sometimes illegal, anti-union campaigns. Companies routinely harass, threaten and even fire workers who are trying to form or join unions. A third of companies fire union supporters in union organizing campaigns, often in the days leading up to the election. Ninety-one percent of companies force workers into one-on-one meetings against the union with their direct supervisors, and employees often aren’t allowed to speak. Meanwhile, union representatives aren’t even allowed on the premises to talk to employees.

Does this seem like a free and fair election?

In 2007 alone, over 29,000 cases filed under the National Labor Relations Act found evidence of employers harassing, intimidating and firing workers for supporting a union.

Why? The dirty little secret is the reason companies will go to all lengths to stop workers from organizing is the same reason Big Business interests have put down big money to stop passage of the Employee Free Choice Act: They don’t want to give workers the power to bargain for the fair wages and benefits that corporations just don’t feel like paying.

The Employee Free Choice Act would eliminate the problem of rigged, company-dominated elections by letting workers decide how they want to form a union. There are currently two potential ways for workers to express their decision of whether to form a union – they can petition for an election, or they can be recognized when a majority signs cards saying they want a union. The problem is that companies get to decide which way the workers decide. The Employee Free Choice Act would reverse that; it would put the choice of how to form a union into workers’ hands, not their companies’.

All employees should have the freedom to make their own decision about whether to form a union to bargain for better wages and working conditions. Our labor laws do not respect workers’ choice. Our laws promote wage inequality and depress our middle class. In today’s economy it is more important than ever that we fix them. Let’s level the playing field and give working people a chance.

With the free choice to form unions, working people can counterbalance corporate power and rebuild our middle class.

Monday, April 27, 2009

EFCA Rally Picture

Click on picture for larger view:

From the EFCA Rally, Crenshaw Wal-Mart - LA on Twitpic

Did the Unions Detroy the Auto Industry?

For 150 years, American biz has fought, tooth and nail, against labor unions, and consistent with this history, are now singing Wall Street's favorite chorus: "labor unions destroyed the auto industry."

Making the American worker the fall guy (and their only protection, the labor union) is consistent with where our culture has spent much of the the last 50 years - worshiping at the alter of power and wealth.

But unions didn't destroy the auto industry.

The unions gave us a vast and decent middle class; the auto companies, along with big biz in general, destroyed themselves, and much of our economy, with relentless greed, poor planning, reduced research, skimming profits to feed the Wall Street monster, and a general disdain for the American consumer evidenced in their efforts, along with the Republicans and a good many Clinton-era Democrats, to outsource our manufacturing, deregulate our health standards, allow our rail system and infrastructure to deteriorate, and let our financial markets invent endless schemes for milking the public, directly contributing to the mortgage industry meltdown.

The Reagan-era effort to destroy unions has brought about a radical reduction of the middle class and led to a hyper-concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

As long as there was plenty of Reaganesque artificial money floating around (read: borrowed from the Chinese), nobody saw just how poorly framed the whole thing was.

But systems like this always implode under their own weight.

And throughout the years, big biz has spent billions trying to convince us that unions are bad. I wish they would have used that money for research and quality jobs for millions of workers who are now unemployed, and millions more who labor under terrible conditions, with marginal benefits at best, threatened with job loss if they even breath the word "union."

Labor Unions are not the culprit - they are the friend of the American worker, and if there's ever been a time when the American worker needed a friend, it's now.

I may be wrong ... but this is my take on things.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

America's Character

Great nations argue about their character with a rich range of voices, and right now, we're engaged in a mostly serious, and sometimes raucous, discussion about who we are.

At the heart of our conversation are two elements:
1. The long-standing conviction of some that America is always pure and clean, that we're innocent at heart, driven by the highest ambitions and the best motives.
2. Historians and essayists who do their careful work, who see not only our best, but our worst, who hold an honest mirror before us, celebrating our virtue and confessing our sin.

Christians, and all people of faith, have a role to play here - especially Christians of the Reformed tradition (read Calvin) who are no strangers to the pervasive power of sin - that relentless self-interest which destroys marriage and family, brings down great corporations and distorts a nation's purpose. Calvinists never flinch from the terrible realities of sin because of an overarching confidence in God's mercy.

God surely loves all of us as we are, and allows for a great deal of latitude in our growth and development - God's ways with us are gracious and kind, but God's love also holds a mirror before us, and for Christians, the mirror is Christ - in his face, we see a picture of humanity, a portrait of what it means to be a human being.

Though God's love for us is gracious and gentle, God's love is also honest and transformative - God loves us as we are, but God loves us too much to leave us as we are!

So it must be for Christians and their regard for the nation in which they find themselves.

The great sorrow of Nazi Germany is that too many Christians paid no attention to the drift into darkness - the Fatherland was their be-all and their end-all. Germany could do no wrong. Germany was under attack by Jews and Communists and homosexuals. Germany needed to do what it needed to do, to protect itself and provide for its people. The German Church largely failed - they were Germans before they were Christians, and Hitler and his gang knew how to manipulate people of faith. Much of what Hitler said had the ring of religion about it - God and country - what a powerful combination, and when the German Church closed its eyes and signed on with Hitler, the Church lost its way.

Christians are Christians first, before they are a citizen.

Yet in America, the distinction between Christ and citizenship has been terrible blurred in some churches - where the American flag and the cross of Jesus are intertwined in a strange form of piety and power - where guns and conquest are celebrated, where the nation is exulted, and like the German Christians, vision is obscured by power, and the church loses its way.

Some voice immediately: "We're not like Germany! It's different here."

Well, it's always different, that's for sure.

But here we are - debating our nation's behavior, our character, our soul.

And it's a good debate, and it's important?

Did we do wrong? That's the question.

If we exclude that question from our conversation, we do great harm to our soul.

As a nation, it's in our best interests to look honestly into the mirror of history, to listen to our allies, to seek the opinion of the world.

And if we're people of faith, to add to the conversation a special courage to face ourselves and, when and if needed, to fess up and make amends!

Great people do this all the time ... and so do great nations!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I am heartbroken and utterly distressed that the United States of America resorted to torture.

Yet, I'm grateful that it's been disclosed.

Who's perfect?

No one, that's for sure.

And neither is America.

We're a great nation, but we've stumbled, and we've stumbled badly under the cloud of fear that gripped us after 9/11. As we descended into the darkness of fear, we lost our way.

I guess that's okay; it happens, to nations and to individuals.

But there comes a time when nations and persons have to face up to their situation.

It's time for us as a nation to face facts ... as we've done with slavery and Native Americans; we've had to face the sad truth of our history, and it's okay. No one's perfect, but what's important in confession is our character. It's not about perfection, but the ability to say we've crossed a line and committed crimes against humanity.

Just watching Arie Fleisher right now trying to justify the Bush Administration on this one. It doesn't work; Fleisher is struggling for words. We executed Japanese interrogators who used waterboarding against Americans.

We crossed a line, and it's time for us to say so, clearly and forthrightly.

It's time for confession.

And it's time for a leap forward.

The United States of America is a great nation, I believe, and we're great in our honesty, our willingness to adopt procedures that are just and humane in our treatment of prisoners, regardless of who they are and whatever their philosophy, and to stick by those policies no matter what. Rather than sinking to the lowest common denominator, we've been able to mostly maintain our character, and that's what makes us great.

America, it's okay to stumble. It's okay to face the facts. It's good and right to say, "We're sorry!"

And it's important to say, "It'll never happen again."

Building Bridges and Ms. California

For much of my ministry, maybe all of it, I've believed that it was possible to build bridges between a passion for the gospel and the love of Christ and a socially just ministry seeking to open doors and welcome everyone.

My conservative friends have always been suspicious of my faith-confession because I believe in the so-call "liberal" causes - I'm pro-gay, I'm pro-choice, I'd love to see guns disappear from our society, I support universal, single-payer healthcare, I deplore militarism and I think that the best capitalism is one in which big business and big government and big labor all work together to sustain a big middle class.

My liberal friends have always been suspicious of my social vision because of my personal commitment to Bible study and my spirituality, though the gap here has decidedly narrowed in the last ten years, as champions of social justice have seen the need for a lively spirituality in partnership with a just social vision.

If anything, the reluctance, these days, comes on the conservative side of things, as so many of them continue to fight the ghosts of the culture wars of the 80s and 90s.

In the recent Miss USA flap regarding top contender Carrie Prejean's comments against gay marriage, once again FOX news champions the old divide:

"Hollywood isn’t just liberal, it is fearfully liberal. It is easier in Hollywood to say you’re a drug addict or to pretty much anything than to admit to being a committed Christian," media expert and longtime Hollywood publicist, Michael Levine of Levine Communications, told FOXnews.com.

There are a lot of committed Christians in Hollywood, but many of them espouse a progressive Christianity, a Christianity of open doors and welcoming faith.

The sun is setting on the James Dobson kind of dogmatic Christianity and rising on an emerging Christianity comfortable in the world as Jesus was comfortable. A Christianity clearly committed to welcoming the stranger and caring for the oppressed, sensitive to global issues, working hand-in-hand with folks of other persuasions to build a safe world and preserve the environment.

Perhaps one could say, "It's easier in a conservative church to say your a drug addict or to pretty much anything than to admit to being a committed Christian" open to gays and lesbians, committed to environmental issues and comfortable with other religions.

The times, they are a-changing, and it's exciting to see a new kind of Christianity rising out of the ashes of the culture wars, and it would seem that the old liberal establishment is leading the day.

I'm sad for Ms. Prejean - her little remark likely cost her the title, but what saddens me the most is that her remark represents Dobson's version of Christianity, a Christianity creaking with old age, increasingly irrelevant and testy. For Ms. Prejean to default to "what she was taught as a child" and then to claim the high moral ground because she refuses to compromise her values is the kind of mindless faith championed by Dobson, the very faith that has created so many false battle fields and forced so many young people into corners they don't want to be in. But these young people have had little choice, growing up in a community of faith that allowed no thought and no opinion other than the accepted party line.

I feel for Ms. Prejean, and I wouldn't be surprised if in the next few years, she'll come out of her shell and discover a richer, and I believe, more authentic Christianity, with open doors and open minds.

May it be so.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Union Contract Signed

O happy day ...

Today's contract signing between LAX Radisson Hotel and its workers (Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union Local 814) signals a new era in cooperation between management and labor.

This is a great contract, giving an immediate raise in salaries and free health care. Needless to say, the elation in the room was palpable.

The worker have struggled for 7 years and through two owners to arrive at this happy day.

Congratulations to the Radisson - this great day represents a new America - the pie is large enough for everyone to have a decent slice.


The owners of the Radisson Los Angeles Airport Hotel have agreed to their first contract with the Unite Here Local 11 union, granting workers a $12.3 million increase in wages and expanding the availability of health benefits, union officials said Monday.The deal came after months of negotiations following the hotel workers’ card-check vote last fall to become part of the Unite Here union. Besides the $12.3 million total increase in wages, all employees working at least 25 hours a week will be eligible for health benefits, as well as access to a pension plan. Further details of the contract were not immediately available.

With this deal, the 580-room Radisson hotel becomes the fourth airport area hotel to sign a union contract; the other three are the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton LAX Hotel and the Sheraton Gateway Hotel at LAX. Only one major airport-area hotel, the Hilton, has remained non-union.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Morn reflections ...

Easter morn reflections ...

Fascinating article in the New York Times on the Wall Street brain drain ... (my first response is good riddance) ...

My second response: those who live by the dollar will die by the dollar.

Third: definition of sin: relentless self-interest.

Like junkies running from one street corner to another ...

But as the Apostle Paul reminds us, MONEY IS NOT the root of all evil (it's not that powerful), but it's the LOVE OF MONEY:

1 Timothy 6: 10 - For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

And as Jesus notes so accurately:

Matthew 6: 19 - 21: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The heart follows the treasure, so be sure to put your treasure in the right place.

The cross, the empty tomb, the vision, the dream ... are these not the right places?

As Frederick Buechner notes: If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party. .... In terms of the world's sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who think he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion.

And elsewhere, Paul writes: If our hope is only for this age, we are the most to be pitied.

On this grand and glorious Easter Sunday, let's keep in mind where we're putting our treasure, for there our heart will go, like a bee to sugar water.

Let's pay attention to the deep values that motivate us.

If we're Christians, let's be a little crazy for Jesus so that we can find our sanity, and, then, maybe help the world, too.

Jesus said, You're the salt of the earth and the light of the world ... let your light so shine that the world may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

May it be so ...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Gays in Iraq

The recent murder of gays in Iraq (New York Times) is a reminder of what happens when fear and hatred are allowed to fester and grow under the approving eye of religion.

Anti-gay sentiment in the United States is real, but on every hand, folks of conscience and faith are addressing it, exposing it, calling it for what it is, and changing it.

My brothers and sisters in the Presbyterian Church who oppose gay ordination and claim to be only "abiding by God's Word" are abiding only by the strictures of exclusion, fear and potential hatred. They fail to see their religious opinion in the larger context of social constructs. While excluding gays and lesbians from the ordained ministries of the church, they adamantly proffer their "love" and "acceptance" of all, but with this caveat: "If you're really a Christian, you won't be a homosexual. Christ will deliver you to a heterosexual life," or at the very least, "you will be celibate."

I made my decision on this some years ago.

Growing up in the church, as I did, I entered ministry (January, 1970) believing that the Bible presented a clear and convincing case against homosexuality, and gave it no further thought until 1976, when I read the first report from one of our task forces. Seeing for the first time how improbable it was to build a case for exclusion against an entire group of people on the basis of just a few verses, all of which have translation and contextual issues, the first move was made for me.

In the early 80s, I met my first AIDs victim - a young man who had come home to die. His family asked me to call on him in the hospital, and I did, and it wasn't easy, because his heart was embittered by what the church had done to him, and who can blame him, when religion tells someone "you're no good," "you're defective," "sinful" and "going to hell."

It was then that I began to see and teach: the biblical posture on morality is not about gender (in which there is no inherent virtue), but fidelity in relationship vs. promiscuity, and when it comes to promiscuity, heterosexuals are leading the way, and heterosexual failure in marriage (including Christian marriage) belies the claims religious people, especially Christians, love to make for their faith.

But I was mostly under the radar, waiting for "further" insight.

And then an associate pastor told me that her brother was gay and thus commenced a lot of conversation and thought, and when the anti-gay voices reached crescendo-pitch, "convincing" the world that their point of view was the godly one, I "came out." Not all at once, but I clearly entered the fray with essays and comment on the floor of Presbytery. The church I served opened its doors to meetings of the GLBT community and hosted their finances for several years until they were able to organize.

During this time, a gay pastor, who had come out, and I became friends, and when AIDs began to take his life, I served him communion regularly. He and his partner (deceased) had lived faithfully for 17 years, and more than that, he was an "evangelical" in piety and theology, being a graduate of Gordon-Conwell, with all the "evangelical" credentials, except one, he was gay.

Putting it all together took some time, but here I am today.

Religion, Christianity, has long specialized in exclusion - this is how power behaves. How striking is our history when measured against the welcome of Jesus (see Diana Butler Bass' new book, "A People's History of Christianity").

Hats off to Jack Rogers and thousands of Presbyterians throughout the United States who stand firm on behalf of a new day.

I long for the time when the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is done with this nonsense of exclusion and can bear witness to our society with the ethic of Jesus and his witness to the love of God.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Mr. President


We have a President!

It's been a long time, folks.

And the world is paying attention.

And may we pay attention to the world.

Our love of guns is just plain silly, and we're not likely to ever figure out what the framers of those words, "the right to bear arms," really meant, so let's put on our thinking caps for a change, let's take a look at the civilized world and admit that our lax gun laws, our infatuation with guns, our admiration of violence, creates a highly violent culture, and the rest of the world looks on with amazement.

And hats off to Iowa for a unanimous Supreme Court decision declaring gay marriage a constitutional right, and contrary to California with its initiative politics, it will be a lot harder to undo.

And maybe we can finally grow up with regard to "illegal" drugs. Secretary of State Clinton is right - our drug appetite is fueling the drug cartels and their violence. Our drug war is ridiculous - makes about as much sense as outlawing milk. Let's legalize it like the Netherlands; let's tax it and make some money, and above all else, let's put the cartels out of business.

Prohibition failed, and so will the drug war.

I have never been a user and at this stage of life, not likely to become one. I decry the sorrow of drugs, but even worse is the clogging of our legal system with prosecutions and making millionaires out of criminals.

We can do better; we can be smarter!

Who knows where it'll go, but this much I know - we finally have a President fit for the office, and a President fit for the 21st century.