Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that we have to remind this nation that it's a crime to live in a rich nation and receive starvation wages.
By risking their jobs and going on strike for $15, better working conditions and union rights, tens of thousands of brave fast-food workers have offered just such a reminder. They've put a face on poverty and forced the public to grapple with an unsustainable economic reality in which corporations and CEOs rake in billions of dollars, but the employees on who's backs these fortunes are made are left with scraps.
On Ash Wednesday, we supported faith leaders around the country who participated in Fast from Fast Food, a 40-day solidarity fast initiated by Interfaith Worker Justice in support of these workers, who struggle to provide for their families despite working hard.
Raising workers' wages and respecting their right to form a union is not just the right thing to do for our economy; it's the right thing to do -- period. North Carolina NAACP President the Rev. William Barber, who is supporting the fast-food workers, said the biggest moral issue of all the religions -- whether it's Christianity, Islam or Judaism -- is how you treat workers.
Deuteronomy says, "Don't defraud the poor. Don't hurt a needy servant. Pay him or her each day's wages before sundown because they need it. And if you don't pay them right, you're guilty before the Lord."
McDonald's pays Nancy Salgado, a mother of two from Chicago, minimum wage after 10 years on the job, forcing her to rely on public assistance to get by. Burger King pays Kansas City father of three, Terrance Wise, $9.30 an hour after 10 years on the job, forcing him to heat his home with his oven in the dead of winter.
It is immoral to treat these and millions of other workers unfairly. It is immoral to force them to rely on public assistance -- to the tune of $7 billion a year -- to support their families, or to make do with haphazard schedules and limited hours that prevent them from gaining overtime or benefits. It is immoral for fast-food CEOs to make more than 1,000 times what they pay the workers who are the backbone of their businesses.
Pope Francis recently said that not paying fair wages is a "very grave sin" and that employers who attend church but treat their employees poorly are "using God to cover injustice."
And so this Lent, we support all who fast. We fast because there is enough to go around if fast-food companies decide to share the wealth that their workers helped create.
Fasting is a tradition across many faiths. This self-deprivation is an act of humility, a practice to remind ourselves of all we have to be grateful for, and also a way to feel connected with people who struggle through imposed deprivation on a daily basis. Fast-food workers who go without heat in the winter, go without milk in the refrigerator, or work for days without seeing their kids, all face deprivation at the feet of a multi-billion dollar industry.
Visionary Catholic labor organizer Dorothy Day once wrote, "What we would like to do is change the world -- make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute -- the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words -- we can, to a certain extent, change the world."
Fast-food workers and the millions of low-wage workers trapped in the margins of our economy are changing the world. Leaders in the faith community are standing with them along with tens of thousands of concerned people who believe in fairness. Will you join us?