One million dollars. It may not seem like much when compared to the trillion-dollar figures that characterize the budgets of modern governments or the balance sheets of investment banks, but, to the vast majority of people, one million dollars is an enormous amount of money.
Well, every day, no less than a million dollars are stolen from working people across Cook County, Illinois by employers refusing to pay them the fair wages for their labor. A million dollars a day. And that is only in one county in the U.S.; if wage theft is that high in one county alone, how extensive must the total figure be for the United States as a whole? Or even for the entire world?
The fact that wage theft is such a major problem today reflects the general vulnerability of laborers everywhere. Whether skilled or unskilled, working class or professional, the vast majority of people are working longer and harder for less and less pay, according to independent research carried out by the Economic Policy Institute. And they are doing so without the essential protections that have traditionally been provided by labor unions, which educate people about their rights as workers, give them a collective voice and are engines for economic prosperity in their communities.
Without these resources, immigrant workers are especially at risk as they often do not have the means for self-education because of language barriers and so are often vulnerable to mistreatment.
It is in this urgent climate that Zakat Foundation of America (ZF) was proud to be a lead sponsor for ARISE Chicago’s “Faith-Labor-Action” community breakfast on November 24th. The around 650 attendees of the event – which included representatives from community organizations, unions, churches, synagogues, and mosques as well as numerous public officials – were treated to impassioned calls for the labor movement to rejuvenate itself through the moral authority of religious traditions, and, likewise, for faith communities to embrace their roots in social justice and lifting up the downtrodden. From its very beginnings, ZF has championed the empowerment of working people here in the U.S. and has worked with ARISE to build bridges between faith communities and labor organizations across the Greater Chicago area.
ZF’s prominence in the local community has allowed it to act as a leader in these initiatives to create a serious positive impact. Since 2004, ZF has supported the recovery of $6.78 million in stolen wages and compensation and the education of over 6,000 low-wage workers on their fundamental rights. Though there is much further to go in making sure that working people are guaranteed the protections, resources, and services that are their due as human beings, ZF will continue to advance these goals with the resolve and determination to not only rectify past injustices but also – and God willing – to help usher in a world where such injustices are no longer possible.