Minimum Wage 40% Less On 40th Anniversary Of Dr. King's Final Days In Memphis

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Mar 2 2008
Contact: Rev. Paul Sherry, Let Justice Roll
216 712-4457, 
Rev. Rebekah Jordan, Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice
901-212-6309, 

Faith Leaders Call for Living Wage at Interfaith Gathering, March 13th

Forty years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers making poverty wages, he would be shocked to see millions of Americans making poverty wages today. Faith leaders from around the country will gather in Memphis, TN, on March 13 to continue Dr. King's work for living wages for all workers with an event organized by the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign and the Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice.

Dr. King told striking sanitation workers in Memphis on March 18, 1968, "It is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis at a full-time job getting part-time income… We are tired of working our hands off and laboring every day and not even making a wage adequate with daily basic necessities of life." Dr. King said, "Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all of God's children… Now is the time for justice to roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

  • In 1968, Memphis sanitation workers at the bottom of the pay scale earned $10 an hour, adjusted for inflation.
  • In 1968, workers earning the federal minimum wage made an inflation-adjusted $9.70.
  • In 2008, forty years later, the federal minimum wage is 40 percent less, at $5.85.

"Talking about values is no substitute for valuing hardworking men and women who need a higher minimum wage," said Rev. Jennifer Kottler, Executive Director of the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign. "Workers should not have to choose between paying the rent and buying food for their children. A job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it."

"Forty years after Martin Luther King traveled to Memphis to support striking workers -- a trip that cost him his life -- many still work for the city at poverty wages," said Rev. Rebekah Jordan, Executive Director of the Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice, located in Memphis. "We must remember that city workers currently living in poverty are paid with taxpayer dollars. Our faiths call on us to ensure that all workers enjoy the fruits of their labor by earning a living wage."

As Dr. King said on March 18, 1966, "We know of no more crucial civil rights issue facing Congress today than the need to increase the federal minimum wage and extend its coverage. A living wage should be the right of all working Americans."

MARCH 13 INTERFAITH CELEBRATION TO CONTINUE DR. KING'S WORK FOR LIVING WAGES: 7:00 pm at the historic Centenary United Methodist Church, which organized support in 1968 for the Memphis sanitation workers. Located at 584 E. McLemore Ave., Memphis, TN.

SPEAKERS: In addition to Rev. Kottler and Rev. Jordan, speakers include:
• Taylor Rogers, a striking sanitation worker who witnessed Dr. King's "I've Been to the Mountaintop" Speech, the night before King's assassination, and became President of the Memphis sanitation workers' union, AFSCME Local 1733
• Rev. Steve Copley, President of Arkansas Interfaith and Chair of the Board, Let Justice Roll
• Adam Taylor, Senior Political Director at Sojourners/Call to Renewal
• Civil rights activist Joyce Miller, now Assistant General Secretary for Justice and Human Rights at the American Friends Service Committee, co-recipient of the 1947 Nobel Peace Prize
• Simon Greer, President & CEO of the Jewish Funds for Justice
• Dr. Herbert Lester, Pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church

The March 13 event will kick off a 24-hour Fast for the Living Wage in Memphis. One in four workers in Memphis is paid less than a living wage. Participants will be asked to contact their City Council members and urge them to strengthen and expand coverage under the living wage ordinance ($10 an hour with health insurance and $12 without insurance) passed in 2006.

Faith groups represented on March 13 will include Baptist, United Methodist, Christian Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal, Episcopalian, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian (USA), Disciples of Christ, Reform Jewish, Conservative Jewish, Unitarian, Roman Catholic and Quaker.

VIDEO of the Interfaith Celebration to Continue Dr. King's Work for Living Wages will be available at a later date at www.letjusticeroll.org and on YouTube.

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About Let Justice Roll: The Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign is a nonpartisan coalition of more than 90 faith, community, labor and business organizations committed to raising the minimum wage to a living wage. Since 2005, Let Justice Roll has helped raise state minimum wages in 17 states and played a key role in raising the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade. Let Justice Roll is currently organizing in states such as Georgia, Kansas, Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

About the Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice: The Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice is a coalition of members of the faith community who seek justice in the workplace. Our mission is to partner with people of faith in order to improve wages, benefits and working conditions for the hard-working people of the Mid-South, especially those who earn low wages.