From the Executive Director – reposted from Just Works e-newsletter, Feb. 15, 2011

This is the time of year where I am very focused on preparing for ICWJ’s annual faith and labor breakfast. Preparing for our big annual event provides me with the opportunity to review where we have been since last year’s breakfast.

I’m proud to say that we enter this New Year with a renewed energy to assist workers in their fight for justice in South Central Wisconsin. In the past couple of months we have had two important victories.

First, we spearheaded a community coalition that pressured the new Dane County D.A. to step up prosecution of wage theft cases. As a result of our meetings with him, the D.A. is now working with Department of Workforce Development to streamline procedures and communications between the two agencies. He is committed to pursuing wage theft cases. Workers in Dane County will benefit from this new commitment as the D.A.’s attention will highlight the issue and compel employers to follow wage and hour laws.

Secondly, ICWJ board member, Scott Watson of the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters and I met with Willy Street Co-op’s general manager, to discuss ICWJ’s concerns about the hiring decisions they made during the construction of their new West Side store.  We asked questions about the use of a non-union contractor and about payment of area standard wages. The conversation illuminated Willy Street Co-op’s commitment to worker justice and attention to prioritizing ethics over the bottom line as well as the steep learning curve that was part of the West Side building project.

We provided education about issues facing workers in the construction field and how the Co-op can assure that their hiring practices can better match their values in the future. The manager was very receptive and appreciative. Days after the meeting she expressed a commitment to using 100% union or area standard paid labor for any future projects. We are grateful to have such a conscientious business in our city.

Our work with Willy Street Co-op has motivated ICWJ to do more pre-emptive work. We are now sending educational information to churches that we know are planning an expansion or remodel so they can make more informed and ethical choices. It is exciting to be at a moment in our organization’s life when we can be pro-active and not just reactive to worker justice issues.

This is not an easy time for workers in our state or around the country. ICWJ is poised to mobilize the community in upcoming battles against anti-worker legislation that will undoubtedly be introduced in the new legislative session. We need your help to build on our recent successes.

I invite you to join me at our Faith Labor Breakfast on February 24 and learn lessons from Arizona about how to protect workers in the current political climate.

In Unity,
Rabbi Renée

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