Thursday, June 11, 2009

EFCA: The Sermon

Sermon on the Employee Free Choice Act
By Bishop Dwayne Royster
Living Water United Church of Christ
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
June 7, 2009
Exodus 1:8-11A

Many have gathered this day to hear a word about the Employee Free Choice Act. This legislation that many are hoping to pass will have a dramatic effect on worker’s rights within this country; to organize unions to bargain with employers for better working conditions, wages, benefits, etc…

I have to admit this has been somewhat of a daunting task for me. As a Christian Minister I am always reminded that I need to ground my sermons in that which is foundational to my faith in this case the texts of the Church. Go with me briefly to the text and a story that I believe addresses God’s fundamental desire for workers to organize and have rights of self determination.
In Exodus 1:8-11a “8Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor.”
The people of Israel found themselves in a dilemma. During the days of Joseph and Jacob the founding nation of Israel found refuge in Egypt during a time of famine in all of the fertile crest (that is the middle east). Much could be said about Joseph’s story in Egypt but we will save that for another time.
Nevertheless, things went well for the Israelites in Egypt during the days of Joseph but sometime after Joseph died the text says a Pharaoh arose in Egypt that did not know Joseph. I would imagine that the story of Joseph was fading into pages of the history of Egypt. The new King of Egypt looked out and saw the Israelites had prospered in the land. Fear gripped the new Pharaoh and a plan was put into place to oppress the masses and bring greater wealth to Egypt.

I want to jump into the story here to make a point. I don’t think most business owners start business to oppress workers and subject them to unreasonable conditions. I think many business owners start out to not only make a living for themselves but others as well. However, in today’s business climate there are those that are sinister and evil in regards to making a buck. Their objective to is make as much money as they can, as quickly as they can, climbing over whomever they can and as fast as they can. In this environment, care for workers is not as important as making money. When takeovers, mergers and sales take place ---when a new pharaoh enters the scene and looks out over the land and sees the workers, generally, somebody is in trouble and it will not be the new owners.

Let me jump back into the story.

As time passes, under this new pharaoh, things get progressively worse for the Hebrews in Egypt. What was once a Godsend during the famine has become a curse. The people are oppressed, they live in less than ideal conditions and they cry out to God for help. After a period of time God hears their cries responds to their calls and sends the world’s first Union Organizer: Moses. Moses after some trials and tribulations is sent by God back to Egypt to tell Pharaoh let his people go. As it is with negotiations it is a back and forth struggle of give and take however the Israelites have God on their side and Moses as a negotiator eventually are freed from their oppressive working conditions.
I am sure that some are thinking what does this have to do with the Employee Free Choice Act.
1. I believe that God desires for us as human beings to have some say in our own destinies. Currently, when workers want to organize themselves into a union or collective bargaining unit the process for how to do that is not left in their hands but that of their employers. EFCA would allow workers the right to choose how they wanted to have their Union certified (which means recognized by the government) either by a simple majority of workers who sign up for the union or they could choose to hold their own elections.

2. The battle between Moses and Pharaoh took awhile and during that time the Egyptians used intimidation to get Moses and the Hebrews to stop pressing for their release including making it such that the Israelites had to make bricks without straw. In addition, they used Israelites within the ranks to report on others and offered them wealth for doing so. When the Employee Free Choice Act is passed, there will be stiff penalties for interfering with the workers’ rights to organize in much the same way God used the 10 plagues to punish Egypt for not negotiating in good faith.

3. With this new legislation once the NLRB has certified the union bargaining can begin on contracts almost immediately and if the process takes too long, help is available via a mediator. This will insure that a contract is settled within a reasonable amount of time

Workers and employers can find ways to work together. We can create a workforce that is more invested in their industries and production, more satisfied with their work and businesses that are more profitable. We have the opportunity to live out the best of our democratic ideas where all of us together have a say in our collective destiny.

When the people of our communities and neighborhoods have the ability to live out their dreams of a great job, great families and great communities we will see the world transformed.

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