Note: This is the first time I have done a first person sermon. It was quite fun. The setting was a Union Meeting, there were union signs around the sanctuary. The audio link is here.)
Beloved, Local #2016
Thank you, Mr. President for allowing me to come and speak this morning.
Sisters and brother, Mr. Mattthews, our union president invited me to come and speak to you this morning about organizing a new union. As you know we were previously proud employees of the Corporate State of Mammon, Number 1 and affiliated with the United Workers of the Empire (UWE). We fought for and won many battles to make sure that we were paid more than anyone else. We fought and won battles that insured that we were seen as the standard bearers of the Empire work ethic. What was our was our and nobody was going to take it away. We lived and breathed the motto “What’s best for Me is best for US.” Though we worked together – we did not work with each other.
As a Mammon local we were fighting for our survival not only as a part of the Empire, but as fighting for a way of life that that insured that a certain status quo was maintained. The leaders of the UWE kept reminding us that we had a place in the system that was important, we were the cogs in the machine that kept the Empire rolling along. We were told not to question the ethics of the leaders because they knew best. We were told watch your back because there is always someone trying to climb to the top using you as a step. We were told that we were beholden to Mammon because it was what made the world go round. We were told that in order to keep the machine going we needed to keep focused on our own business and not worry about the business of the others.
You remember who the others were, right? The others were those workers who refused to be at the pick-up corner at dawn. That wasted their times playing with their families. That would rather be outside the auspices of the UWE. We were told they were the creatives who spent their days with their heads in the clouds rather than being contributing members of the Local. We were told they were the ones who had turned their backs on the UWE by daring to be in relationships that were focused on each other than for the benefit of the Empire. We were told the others were the ones too old or too sick to work, too young to offer meaningful suggestions, too differently abled to be helpful. We were told that we were important because we were what made the nation run.
But something happened this spring that Mr. Matthews and I agree should change the shape of our Union. It happened to me and that is why he asked me here this morning. This thing that happened shifted how I understood my role as a worker and how I understood the Union. What happened to me showed me that everyone is deserving of of Loving Wage. Everyone is able to be a part of the Union regardless of their ability, and most importantly it showed me we should no longer be part of the United Workers of the Empire – no longer cogs in the Corporate State of Mammon, but rather we should change our affiliation to this new organization called Beloved Community United (BCU) and we should organize as Beloved, Local #2016 where the last are first and the first are last – but we are all here.
So this thing that happened. It happened back in Early May.
We were there at the corner waiting for someone to hire us. Up drives this nice truck. I mean it was sharp. Clean. Freshly waxed. It had tools in the box, ladders on the side. It looked too legit to be there to pick up us day laborers. Some of the guys disappeared thinking it was probably an ICE (Immigration and Customs) raid. It looked like a fed coming to bust some of the workers, but out stepped this sharp dressed man.
He told us he was the owner of this new vineyard that was being planted on the outskirts of town – along the White River by old US 37, south of the city. None of us had ever done that kind of work, but he said he would hire us and tell us what to do. He offered us a fair wage – about $20/hr for a full days work. Man, those of us who were not afraid of ICE were ready to jump – nobody pays that much. Usually they just say a flat rate for the day that is close to minimum wage levels.
So he picked up a bout 2 dozen of us, this was going to be a big job, the sun was barely up an he was taking about half of the people gathered. We told him we were UWE and that if he didn’t pay us what he agreed to – there would be repercussions. I flashed the piece I always carried just to make sure he got the point. We shook on it and hoped in the truck and the car that we didn’t see earlier.
When we got to the vineyard, it was an area of open farm land right along the river. We were going to be out in the sun all day, and the bugs – the mosquitos were already out. It told the man to make sure we had plenty of water – it was going to be hot.
So he laid out what we were to be going, some of us were to be tiling the land, they had the joy of sitting ont he tractors that tore into the soil. Those of us with out the driving skill were showed a stack of lumber and told that trellises were supposed to be built. We had to dig post-holes and secure the cross bracing so that then new vines would have secure places to grow. Even with 2 dozen of us, this was going to be a good several weeks of work. It was good news. This new vineyard was the place to be.
About 8:30 the boss come to the field and drops off some food for us, the most delicious bread I have ever tasted. Something about it totally revived me. And the water in the cooler, was, I don’t know, there was something about it. And it seemed, even as the sun began to bake down that the cooler didn’t empty. It couldn’t see where the water line was, but there had to be something feeding it. He told us we could take a break and when we were ready, we could get back to work.
Just as were we about to get back to work the truck arrives with some more of the people from the corner. Needless to say, some of us started to mumble and rumble. This was his plan, to keep adding workers until the work is done as quick as possible. A job we thought would take a few weeks was now being reduced to a few days.
More tractors tilled and more post holes were dug.
Noon rolled around and the boss brought out lunch for us. That never happened. This guy must have had money to throw away, because he had the most amazing tuna salad sandwiches. He also brought out smoked salmon and this nice french bread. We were eating like kings, and he kept telling us that we cold have as much as we wanted. The platters were always full.
But then it happened, he had to have been buying us off because another truck load of laborers showed up. I was beginning to see what was happening. He wanted to keep the workers fresh so they worked fast. He might be paying well, but if he could finish the work in a day it would be worth it because he could begin the planting and maybe have have a harvest by the late fall. He was going to profit by exploiting us.
I called the Local office and talked with Mr. Matthews. He told me to keep an eye out for this boss man. He told me to see if my thoughts were correct, and if they were, tonight to give him a call and we would be there in the morning ready to picket and fight. We would sully his name with other workers, so only the “others” would be there to work for him and he would get nothing done.
I threw my food away and went back into the field, angry at this deception. I thought I would be able to feed the family for the summer with these few weeks work, and now I might be able to grocery shopping once.
Fuming those of us in the first shift kept working – the new guys dared to stop and eat lunch first.
We kept working and then at three, more came. I got those of us in the first and second waves of workers to slow down. If he was going to keep refreshing the workers, we would slow work so at least we might be able to come back tomorrow.
Finally the sun was beginning to arch past the hottest of the day and the boss’s son came and brought us some dinner. He even ate with us. But he didn’t sit at the table with us, but rather sat off to the side waiting to be invited to the table. That wasn’t going to happen, I don’t care how good the food was, he and his dad kept cutting our hours.
As were were finishing eating we saw the truck pull up. The son had told us we had one more hour of work today, the land was tilled and the trellises were up. We just had clean up to do and we would be done with the job.
Out of the truck come more workers.
What was the point? Why was the boss bringing people when were were cleaning up? I called Mr. Matthews and told him to rally the troops. We would be marching tomorrow.
We finished cleaning up the work tools and put things back where they beloved.
The what would have been weeks of work were over and now it was time to get our day’s pay. Our one day’s pay. The boss call all of us workers under the lunch canopy gave us towels to wash our selves down with, and let me say, when that water from the towel washed over my face – it felt like I was getting a new life. It was just as refreshing as the water from the cooler that never seemed to empty. Anyway, the boss called us over under the canopy and began to pay out.
Now instead of paying those of us who were there the longest first – he began paying the guys that were only there for an hour. I really didn’t know why he wasted his time to go all the way to town to get them and drive all the way back here just to give them an hours wage – but you see, when he paid them, he gave them what we agreed to – and not just the hourly rate but the whole day’s worth.
I could feel my cheeks beginning to burn, either something really good was going to happen – or we were going to get shorted something fierce. I had a feeling we were going to get shorted, and lo and behold – what happened? The three o’clock workers got the same, then the noon, then the nine, and then us. WE ALL GOT PAID THE SAME! This is outrageous.
“Hey, Boss Man,” I said, “that ain’t how it works here in the Corporate State of Mammon. You better get ready because UWE is gonna be coming after you. It isn’t fair that you are paying these lazy bums the same as us who was working out in the heat all day. You agreed to pay us fair, and now you are paying them the same as us. That ain’t right.”
Then it happened, the boss looked at me and just with him looking at my it felt like I was kicked in the chest. I lost my breath and I had to sit down. He looked at me, and he wasn’t angry. No, you see, when I have stood up to bosses in the past they would usually either drop and run or start stammering and pay what was due. But not this time. Not today. No. This time the boss just turned and looked at me, and it looked like he was about to cry. And it wasn’t a scared cry, but sad. Like that look your kid gets when she hears that her grandma can’t make it for dinner or like when you lost your dog. It was heartbreak in his eyes.
“‘Friend,” He called me his friend, “I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?” Then his tone changed a little bit, it was almost like he was giving me an ultimatum, but there was something in his words that kept me there. “Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
I just stood there looking at him. I didn’t know what to say. But as I sat there the whole day flashed before my eyes. I started the day with no work. I got work. I was give work that fit my skills. I was given water when he didn’t need to give water. I was given lunch when I didn’t ever get lunch from there jobs. The water was always there. The bread was always there. Every time more people came there was enough work for them. I looked out at the vineyard, and then it really hit me. I had been so focused on all my work that what I thought I was getting done was enough, but when I looked at the vineyard at the end of the day, there was still so much work to do. We would have had 100 more people there working and the still would be work to do.
The boss gave me work when I didn’t have none and then instead of leaving me to do it all myself kept bringing help. The boss kept bringing help because there was work to be done. Hard, hot, dirty work, but it never got tiring because the boss kept watching after us. And at the end of the day we all went home with not only a living wage – but a loving wage.
The last got paid first – but we all got paid. And we all were part of the boss’s work force, and to this day – everyday I am going to the vineyard to work.
So, you see, This boss needs workers and needs them organized. And that is why Mr. Matthews asked me to speak to you. To tell you about this new way of organizing. As Beloved, Local #2016. Where we rally together to make sure everyone – regardless of their ability is guaranteed a living and a loving wage. Where acceptance and grace are more important that skills and know how – that stuff comes when we work with each other. In Beloved, Local 2106 we lift up the young and teach them and raise them to learn how to work in the vineyard, and we care for the old who have been working in the filed longer than we have been alive. We make sure everyone gets the care they need regardless if they have “earned” it or not. If they are sick, we help. If they are hopeless, we give hope. If they are angry, we sit with. If they are sad, we walk beside.
In Beloved, Local # 2016 we, too paraphrase my hero – Tom Joan – we say:
Whenever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, we’ll be there. Whenever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, we’ll be there..we’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build – why, we’ll be there.
We’ll be there, because in Beloved Community United we have learnd what it is like when the first are last and the last are first – because we have all been there at one point or another and at the end of the day – no matter what we got our loving wage.
Thank you very much, and have a good afternoon.