Pastors Preach on Need for Living-Wage Initiative in Long Beach

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Jose Landino (right), a 13-year veteran of the Long Beach hotel industry, explains to parishoners at Grace United Methodist Church why they should vote Yes on Measure N. Photo courtesy of Long Beach Living Wage Coalition.

In November, Long Beach voters will decide whether to require hotels with over 100 rooms to pay employees no less than $13 per hour—a minimum "living wage," say supporters.

On the Sunday before Labor Day, it was a cause many church leaders felt they should preach about.

"This is my first time directly, unequivocally, without being subtle to advocate [for a specific ballot measure]," said Rev. Nestor Gerente of Grace United Methodist Church—one of 11 churches citywide where parishioners were asked to vote Yes on Measure N come Election Day. "I'm just following what I should be doing as a spiritual leader, you know? To implement what our denomination has already spoken, to lift out what the Bible has called on the followers of Christ to do. […] It's in the Scripture […] that there is a call of God for us to take care of the vulnerable, the marginalized."

"For a spiritual community, Labor Day is more than a day off with a backyard barbecue,” said Bishop Bonnie Radden of Refiner's Fire Fellowship, United Church of Christ. “It's a time to reflect on the dignity of labor, and to strive to honor that dignity as a society. A living-wage law would have profound effects on Long Beach workers and their families. It would send positive ripples through our local economy, and it would make us a stronger people.”

Supporters of Measure N claim that even though the city's large hotels and Convention Center receive taxpayer-funded subsidies in excess of $100 million per year, many full-time employees do not receive a viable living wage. Seventeen such workers spoke at the various churches around the city Sunday, including St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Grant African Methodist Episcopal Church, Unitarian Universalist Church, Family of Faith Christian Center and Los Altos UCC.

"Labor Day in the Pulpit" was coordinated by the Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) Los Angeles, an interfaith, 501(c)3 organization that "educates, organizes, and mobilizes the faith community to walk with workers and their families in their struggle for respect and dignity in the workplace and beyond."

A CLUE-LA representative says similar "Yes on N" sermons will be heard in at least three more churches next weekend.

In his sermon Sunday, Rev. Gerente marveled at how anyone—particularly devotees of the teachings of Jesus—could be against paying workers a living wage, such as Measure N would mandate. In Gerente's words,

I find it hard to understand that any Christian, from any time or place, might fail to affirm the sacred value of labor. I find it hard to understand that those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ might refuse to celebrate the holy dignity of those who work. I am mystified that any child of God might ever find it acceptable to deny a living wage and a safe work environment to those who hold our world together by their blood, sweat, and tears. I do not need to be subtle here. It is not merely a minor sin to take advantage of workers, to treat them as though they are dispensable or to fail to pay them adequately. It is evil! It is to go against the very heart of Jesus’ gospel. It is to set oneself in opposition to the God of the Bible who liberates the enslaved, who frees the oppressed, and who saves the exploited from their exploiters.

Gerente went on to explain to his parishioners why he was speaking so directly to a political issue during a sermon:

I seldom speak openly in my sermons about political issues confronting this city, this state and this nation. However, with Measure N, I feel a need to do so. A law that guarantees a living wage is long overdue here. For too long, we have forced our sisters and brothers to work two or more long, hard jobs just to get by, just to support their families. This isn’t fair. It is not just. It is not godly. So, I hope that you will consider the Bible’s teachings on justice for workers as you make your decision how to vote. I hope that you will seriously study our United Methodist Social Principles statement on economic community. And, I hope that you will talk to some hotel workers to learn just how crucially important this issue, this city referendum, is for them.

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