Paid sick days and family leave should be a moral imperative for NC voters

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Except for summer jobs in high school when I was mowing yards and babysitting for the neighbors, I have always had paid leave and paid sick days. Always. When each of my children were born, I didn’t work for eight weeks. When my mother was hospitalized, I left work that day and stayed with her for a week. Losing my salary, much less my job, never crossed my mind.

This means I have to pay close attention to what it’s like for the more than 85% of people in this country who don’t have paid leave, never mind paid time off to care for sick family members or welcome new children into the home. When they rush to their mother’s side in the hospital, they don’t get paid to sit there for a week. And if it turns out to be a grandmother they rush to care for, the Family Medical Leave Act does not guarantee their job since immediate family only includes parents, children, and spouses.

Most of the people in North Carolina know these things because most of them don’t have paid leave. Prior to COVID-19, 1.2 million private-sector workers in North Carolina were already not entitled to any earned paid sick leave. That means 33% of the private-sector workforce have been forced to give up needed wages and possibly risk their jobs so they can care for their own health needs or the health needs of family members. Workers earning low incomes (disproportionately women and workers of color) are significantly less likely to have earned paid sick days. Sixty percent of those earning less than $20,000 per year lack access to paid leave. Many of these same people are working in low-wage jobs now considered “essential.”

Since so many employers appear reticent to provide paid leave, it falls to society to make these things happen. As a society we have the responsibility to ensure that our neighbors have the same advantages we have. If I can rush to my mother’s side, everyone should be able to rush to a mother’s side—and a grandmother’s. We can elect lawmakers who will protect all workers by crafting legislation that requires paid leave and living wages.

For people of faith, especially those who read the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament, this moral imperative is grounded in the Great Commandment—love God, love your neighbor. Imagine if we all entered the voting booth this year asking ourselves: Who can I vote for that will ensure the best outcome for my neighbor’s well-being? Who can I vote for that will work to create paid leave, paid sick days, and raise the minimum wage?

Can I get a witness?

The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Copeland is the executive director of the North Carolina Council of Churches.

Council of Churches leader: The passing of a shameful anniversary

It has been 10 years since Congress raised the minimum wage. Some states have raised their minimum without a federal mandate, but not North Carolina. This 10-year span follows on the heels of a previous 10-year span without a minimum wage increase. Until 1997, the wage was adjusted fairly regularly, even if not fairly regulated. Consider that 1968 was the highpoint for minimum wage earning (adjusted for inflation) and it’s been losing ground ever since.

On July 24, 2009, the minimum wage went from $6.55 to $7.25 per hour, the last step of a process that began with Congress in 2007. If inflation had remained stagnant through this wage stagnation decade, we wouldn’t have a problem. But it hasn’t. Millions of Americans across the country are struggling to get by on $7.25 an hour; not to mention tipped workers trying to make it on just $2.13 an hour. For the past ten years, the minimum wage has increased a grand total of seventy cents. If you’re among the fortunate few who actually work forty hours a week, most work less, for this salary, your weekly wages are only $18 more than they were in 2009 or roughly $121 a month. That won’t make a car payment these days or buy a month’s worth of groceries for a family of four. It won’t buy groceries for me and I live alone.

Scripture has much to say about wage inequity, starting with the basic mandate to pay the worker enough for that worker’s family to have food, clothing, and shelter. The minimum wage no longer provides this moral baseline. And yet, the wealth gap in our nation continues unabated with wealth continuing its upward flow to the few at unprecedented rates.

The concentration of wealth in the hands of a few is not a new phenomenon. That’s why the biblical Holiness Code created a system that allows people to acquire wealth through ingenuity and industry, but not to amass wealth in proportions that are unhealthy for a just society. Read more

Christian leader to state lawmakers: No more mottos

Rev. Jennifer Copeland

Hours after teachers marched on Raleigh to talk about funding needs for their schools, their students, and, yes, even themselves, a bill (House Bill 965) was introduced in the General Assembly to place mottos, national (“In God We Trust”) and state (“Esse quam videri”—”To Be Rather Than to Seem”), on the walls of our public schools. The teachers and their allies didn’t have that one on their list and it’s no wonder why.

In a country whose dominant norm is Christianity, the loudest current version being evangelicalism verging on fundamentalism, the word “God” conjures up images of “Our Father who art in heaven.” Hence, the motto “In God We Trust” is not benign, as some would have us believe. For those whose god is other than “our father,” whose beliefs are protected by the First Amendment, a bit of mental translation is necessary to reinterpret the motto’s meaning to fit one’s own religious tradition. For those who have no religious tradition, whose beliefs also are protected by the First Amendment, the motto is an affront.

For those who DO believe the tenets of Trinitarian Christianity, we don’t need a sign at school telling us who we trust. Families and faith communities offer ample opportunity in the course of a week to reinforce that trust—worship, prayer, Bible studies, fellowship gatherings, small group studies, etc. There’s plenty of trust in God found among the congregations affiliated with the North Carolina Council of Churches and we can provide ample resources to help build more trust.

It’s a clever ploy to appropriate a motto already found on every coin in every child’s pocket, but this particular motto has its own loaded history worth understanding before we start plastering it on our public school walls. Read more