Interfaith Worker Justice announced on December 31 that it was shutting down at the end of the day.
The announcement came from Kim Bobo, who founded the organization in 1996.
“It’s sad,” Bobo told Catholic News Service in a January 4 telephone interview.
Interfaith Worker Justice records and resources will be transferred to the Interfaith Worker Solidarity Network, a project of Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for the Labor and Working Poor, supported by a contribution of $ 100,000 from Interfaith Worker Justice reserves.
Joe McCartin, director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative, said the Interfaith Network for Workers’ Solidarity – which has adopted the acronym IN4WS – considers itself after a series of online meetings involving up to 80 participants “as following tradition. of the IWJ and updating that tradition for the challenges of the present day.
Interfaith Worker Justice was “founded at a particular time and responded to the challenges of those times – the election of John Sweeney as president of the AFL-CIO” in 1995, said McCartin, who served on the board of directors. group for 10 years, “and called for an organization like IWJ. I think Kim’s departure from the IWJ was difficult for the organization because she is such a charismatic leader.
Interfaith Worker Justice can list several accomplishments over its 25 years.
Perhaps the most important of them was to put the term “salary theft” in the American lexicon. Bobo wrote “Wage Theft in America” in 2008, and it sparked a wave of complaints from other workers who had also been cheated by their bosses.
“We have literally thousands of believers who realize that this is a huge problem in the country,” said Bobo, “standing with the worker centers both in terms of direct action but also passing laws across the country to strengthen enforcement. “
In addition, “we have engaged thousands of people of faith and their faiths to make worker justice part of the social justice scene,” said Bobo. “I thought to myself, ‘If I can integrate worker justice into the social justice fabric of the faith community, then I will have done my job. It happened. We have people – people from faith communities – and seminars that teach that stuff. “
This led, she added, to another achievement: “very good relations between unions and religious communities. There are many of these local religion-work coalitions – some predate Interfaith Worker Justice – but there is a local network that did not exist before.
Interfaith Worker Justice has also built a network of work centers in cities across the United States. The remaining $ 200,000 from its reserves will be distributed to some of the individual worker centers and the network that has been formed on their behalf. McCartin, in a telephone interview with CNS on Jan. 4, said that IN4WS “will not try to do the job that worker centers are trying to do.”
Bobo described the issues that led to the demise of Interfaith Worker Justice.
“They went through four directors after me in two years,” she told CNS. “It was probably the biggest problem. The associations are too fragile to go through four administrators in two years. You can’t stand this, can you? In the process, they lost a lot of long-term staff.
“I think problem number two was that they ended up, frankly, having some pretty sour people on the board, and it kind of became a war between the workers center board members.” and members of the council of religious leaders. It was a mess. I was not there ; That’s what I heard. ”Bobo is now the director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, based in Richmond, the state capital.
“When the staff is messy and the board messy, it’s hard to move forward,” she said. “The clerics on the council felt it was the best thing to do to shut it down.”
In her message of December 31, she acknowledged the help of the “giants” who encouraged her, including two of the greatest “priests of work” of the American church, Mgr. George Higgins and Mgr. John Egan.
Formed in the fall of 2020, the Interfaith Network for Workers’ Solidarity already has two Catholic organizations among its members: the Catholic Labor Network and the Association of US Catholic Priests.
Bobo’s New Year’s Eve message read: “Organizations and structures can come and go. The work of justice continues.
In a 2009 speech at the Catholic Labor Network’s annual meeting, shortly after the publication of “Wage Theft in America,” Bobo recalled a time when she was eating at one of her favorite restaurants. in her hometown of Chicago and realized she didn’t have enough money. to pay the bill. When she showed the waiter a credit card and asked, “If I put this (tip) on the bill, will you get it?” The server replied “No”.
“I had the same experience a week ago in a restaurant while on vacation,” Bobo told CNS on Jan.4. “This one said no, it would be better if you gave it in cash.”
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