Low wage workers take part in a protest organized by the Coalition for a Real Minimum Wage in New York, May 30, 2013.
Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

Faith leaders join call for a higher minimum wage


One day before the Senate is scheduled to vote on a proposed minimum wage hike, a broad coalition of religious leaders urged Congress to approve the measure in an open letter. Over 350 members of the clergy signed the letter, including members of the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim faiths.

We respect the dignity of our neighbors who toil under the yoke of today’s unjust minimum wage, and we call on our elected leaders to ease their burden by making the minimum wage a family wage,” according to the letter.

Interfaith Worker Justice national policy director Rev. Michael Livingston announced the publication of the letter on a Tuesday conference call hosted by his organization and the group Faith in Public Life. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and United States Labor Secretary Thomas Perez were also on the call to thank the proposed wage hike’s supporters in the religious community.

Religious institutions have played a central role in the minimum wage campaign since the first fast food strike in November 2012, when New York faith leaders joined protesting fast food workers on the picket line as they demanded a $15 base wage and the right to unionize. Since then, many of the larger fast food strikes and state or local minimum wage campaigns have benefited from faith-based support. Tuesday’s letter is an attempt to exert clerical pressure on a national scale, in favor of a $10.10 federal wage hike that would lift standards across most of the country.

Rev. James Perkins, the vice president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, described raising the minimum wage as a “moral issue” on Tuesday’s conference call.

“People who are opposed to raising the minimum wage are more interested in their economic ideology than they are in providing struggling people with the dignity of work,” he said.

He also rejected the argument promulgated by some on the right, including Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that religious institutions and private charities are a satisfactory replacement for government anti-poverty programs.

“Taking care of the poor is more than just the concern of the church,” he said. “It’s the church’s role to be the conscience of society and remind our political leaders and those in positions of influence … that those two have a moral obligation to help and take care of the poor simply by paying them a living wage.”