Remarks delivered by Executive Director Jennifer Copeland at a press conference on fair wages on March 8, 2017.
Today is a day without women. Across the world women have been encouraged not to labor, whether for pay or not for pay. We are taking the day off, all on the same day, to demonstrate how much of what happens in the world happens because of women. Several schools have canceled classes because they know their schools cannot function without its women. Good for them, but the truth is, the world won’t feel the full brunt of a day without women because many women cannot afford not to work. Their lives and the lives of those they love depend on the money they will earn today.
These are the women who make up the nearly two-thirds of minimum wage and tipped wage workers. 40% of them are single mothers, 37% of them are women of color, and half of them are over 25. You thought only teenagers and college students worked for minimum wage. Not so. Creating a minimum living wage moves us toward income equality, a value distinctly missing from an economy where women still make 80 cents on the dollar compared to men. On this International Women’s Day, it’s worth noting that Minimum Wage is women’s wage.
The numbers are out there for anyone who wants to look them up. More pressing for my money is the human dignity question. How much is an hour of labor really worth and what does that say about how much the person is really worth? Can a day’s labor be worth at least enough for a person to live on for that day? Not live extravagantly, just safely and comfortably. Isn’t the one laboring worth at least that much?
My faith tradition professes that our worth is in our faces because our faces look like God’s face. We are created in the image of God, making each human face invaluable. Hiding opposition to fair wages behind arguments about shrinking bottom lines and increased overhead devalues the face. Why do people need to work for $7.25 an hour when CEO salaries are in the millions and stock earnings are in the billions? If we pay people a fair wage, enough money to live on, the CEOs and the stockholders will still have more than enough money to live on. We don’t have to raise prices to raise wages—that’s a lie told by those who look at salaries from the top. If we look at salaries from the bottom, the view is very different. From down there we can see all the money going up the chain to the people at the top, draining life itself from the workers at the bottom. Are the faces at the top more valuable than the faces at the bottom? Are the faces at the top created more in the image of God than the faces at the bottom? I don’t think so…
The Christian faith, along with many others, claims value for the faces at the top and the bottom. Our scriptures are filled with stories about employers and workers and wages. Our God commands that we be just and kind. A fair wage is a step in the right direction. Thank you.