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Places of worship honor workers on Labor Day


2:00 P.M. EDT August 22, 2011 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

Anne Alukonis, a food service worker in Nashville, Tenn., will be speaking in churches Sept. 4 as part of Labor in the Pulpits. A UMNS photo by Kathleen Barry.
Anne Alukonis, a food service worker in Nashville, Tenn., will be speaking in
churches Sept. 4 as part of Labor in the Pulpits. A UMNS photo by Kathleen Barry.
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Anne Alukonis has a degree in sociology and has worked with youth and refugees, owned her own business, cleaned homes and is now in food service. She knows what she is talking about when she says, “People judge you on what you do rather than who you are.”

Alukonis will be sharing her story with United Methodists on Sept. 4 as part of Labor in the Pulpits, a nationwide effort to recognize the more than 2 million full-time year-round workers who live below the poverty line.

“People deserve to be treated with dignity no matter what they do; that’s straight from Christ,” she said.

Kelley Frances Fenelon, a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School and a member of the Economic Empowerment Coalition, is coordinating the Nashville event, which will include a cookout on the campus on Labor Day. The coalition is an affiliate of Interfaith Worker Justice, a national network of people of faith working to improve wages, benefits and conditions for workers.

“Anne’s warmth immediately welcomes anyone she encounters,” said Fenelon. “When she serves a customer, she is also giving them an example of how to welcome others — how to interact with people with compassion and respect.”

History of supporting workers

Labor in the Pulpits was started in 1996 by Interfaith Worker Justice and the AFL-CIO. The interfaith network receives support from The United Methodist Church.

The church has a long history of defending the rights of workers, starting with the denomination’s founder, John Wesley, who in the early days of the Industrial Revolution spoke out on the struggles of manufacturing workers and other laborers in England.

The United Methodist Church’s predecessor denominations called for the principle of conciliation and arbitration in work disputes. Church members later were instrumental in passing federal work protections such as the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, which limits barriers to private-sector unions and penalizes unfair work practices.

In the last century, union negotiations contributed to such widespread advances as the 40-hour workweek, paid holidays, health benefits as well as workplace safety measures. It’s this legacy that Americans celebrate each Labor Day.

Since 1968, the Book of Discipline — the denomination’s law book — has proclaimed support for “the right of all public and private employees and employers to organize for collective bargaining into unions and other groups of their own choosing.”

Face-to-face meetings

Carter Ellis, a United Methodist student at Vanderbilt and a member of the coalition, said Labor in the Pulpits is a great opportunity to focus on workers’ issues.

“There are lots of times when we preach and teach about justice and equality,” she said. “A lot of congregations are not aware of issues within their own communities. It is a way to put a face and a real-life local story to the issues of worker justice.”

Fenelon is hoping many Nashville faith communities will participate in the event Sept. 4.

“By noticing the connections that exist between work and our creating God, we can begin to move communities of faith both to celebrate the value of work and to call for justice in all workplaces, from a living wage to respect for all as commonly created with dignity.”

Alukonis said workers who have not had the wide range of experiences that she has had sometimes feel they don’t have a voice.

“The church would be an excellent, excellent place for people to realize they do have a voice. It is also a great place to talk about things like ‘How do I change my thinking?’ because Christ was all about that.”

*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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