Legacy Stories

A History of Supporting Workers' Rights

A History of Supporting Workers' Rights
Joni Lincoln joins other United Methodist Women in a rally for a fair living wage during Assembly 2018. Photo by Mike DuBose.

Every September, United Methodist Women honors workers on Labor Day. Yet our support for labor is ongoing, and it goes back for decades.

Our history of speaking up on behalf of those who toil began some 150 years ago, when Methodist Fanny Crosby wrote hymns that called for the end of child labor. When the Woman’s Missionary Society started holding annual meetings in 1910, living wages and child labor were among the topics discussed. In the 1940s, the Woman’s Division supported the extension of Social Security to domestic and agricultural workers, and later included the right to fair pay and just labor practices in its Bill of Rights and Annual Reports.

Since that time, United Methodist Women has supported the rights of workers in many ways. We have partnered with workers' groups on behalf of farmers, restaurant employees and factory workers. We have worked with the United Nations, labor organizations and U.S. Congress. Through education, grants and advocacy efforts, United Methodist Women continues to promote self-empowerment and unites people across economic and social differences.

Support for Workers’ Groups

One of the many workers’ groups that United Methodist Women has partnered with more recently is the Asian Immigrant Workers’ Association, to whom we gave financial and advocacy support on behalf of hotel, restaurant and garment workers in the California Bay Area. Other groups and campaigns we have worked with include the International Labor Rights Forum’s RugMark campaign to halt abusive child labor practices, as well as textile mill workers in North Carolina.

One of our more involved efforts was United Methodist Women’s participation in 1995 at the U.N.’s 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing. With our partner, Center for Concern, we invited various community organizers to Beijing. We spent a year training these local organizers to be sure their needs were represented at the conference. In addition, United Methodist Women was active in shaping the platform of action for the Conference and hosted workshops and plenaries that helped women organize around economic and labor issues.

Impact on Legislation

United Methodist Women also has impacted U.S. legislation. From 1990-94, during the negotiations and vote on the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), United Methodist Women supported education campaigns and workers’ movements across the country. This included advocating to protect workers from pollution near the U.S. Mexico border, having workers visit their representatives in Congress, and encouraging the Congressional Women’s Caucus to visit Mexico to see living and working conditions firsthand. Perhaps most significantly, United Methodist Women played a big role in the movement against Fast Track negotiations, helping to make sure that legislators had time to research and debate any agreement. NAFTA ended up being the first trade agreement that included labor and environmental provisions, establishing important legal and policy precedent.

Our Work Continues

Today, our support on behalf of workers continues. United Methodist Women is in the midst of its Living Wage For All Campaign, which includes a postcard campaign asking Wendy’s to sign on to the Fair Food Agreement. This is just one of our many other advocacy efforts for a living wage, economic justice, fair work conditions and worker’s rights.

United Methodist Women will continue to fight for all workers, especially those who are most marginalized: women, children and people of color. Our support for workers is an integral part of  our legacy—now, then and in the future.

Posted or updated: 9/4/2018 12:00:00 AM

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