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The Rev Dr Martin Rafanan Testifies in Jefferson City Against Anti-Worker Bill

Rafanan, with button

The Rev Dr Martin Rafanan, left, with button

On February 2, 2015, there was a hearing in Jefferson City on Right to Work bill HB116. St. Louis Workers’ Rights Board member The Rev Dr Martin Rafanan came with 200 clergy and 50 community leaders to oppose the anti-worker bill. Below is the testimony he gave.

Mr. Chair and members of the committee, my name is Martin Rafanan and I reside in St. Louis, Missouri. I am a called and ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. My current pastoral call is from the Council of the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to be the Community Director of Missouri Jobs with Justice.

In this ministry, I stand with and develop community support for low wage workers and their families. I encourage opinion leaders nationally and across the state of Missouri to support and protect workers who are fighting for better wages and the right to form a union without retaliation.

I am a former Director of Gateway180 :: Homelessness Reversed, the state’s largest homeless shelter for women and children. In this shelter approximately 1 in 5 women works full or part time but cannot support themselves and their families due to poverty wages. The companies they work for are among the most profitable in the state: Wells Fargo, Express Scripts, McDonald’s and many others.

I am here today to be a voice in favor of the constitutional right of these workers to organize and collectively bargain and to fight for better wages and working conditions. I oppose Right to Work, Paycheck Protection and other anti-worker legislation because these bills do not support workers; rather, they are an attack on workers by out of state, extreme interests who want to increase corporate and CEO profits. As a minister of the Gospel, I must oppose this abuse of legislative power to enrich the wealthiest individuals and organizations in our state.

It is clear that this legislation lowers wages for all workers as has already been acknowledged by the Republican majority in this legislature. It keeps workers from having a means of fighting discrimination and lack of safety in the workplace. And, beyond the additional hardships it would place on workers, it places a devastating burden on our communities.

Ella, who works full-time for the fast food industry in St. Louis, makes $8.50 an hour. She brings home less than $18,000 per year. We know that it takes at least $46,000 for Ella and her child to live even a modest lifestyle in St. Louis without accessing government assistance like Food Stamps, Earned Income Tax Credit and healthcare support. Ella and her family also use local food pantries and other social services due to these poverty wages. However, the company she works for made a $13 Billion dollar profit and their CEO pay has grown dramatically in the last decade while workers’ salaries has been stagnant. This company is being subsidized by the people of my community so that workers can be paid poorly. Where is this money going? If workers received a fair salary, they would be using those dollars in our communities, strengthening our local economies and not having precious resources going into the cash reserves of mega-corporations and their wealthy stockholders. It’s no wonder that these workers are fighting for a fair deal and a voice.

However, RTW and PD are an attack on the ability of unions to sustain their growth and work and it undermines the ability of workers to fight for a better life for themselves and their families and our communities.

I oppose this type of legislation because it is immoral. It places undue burdens on the middle class and on the poorest people in our communities. It has no impact on creating jobs and when it does produce jobs, they are poverty wage jobs that take equity straight out of our communities.

“Right to Work” bills are an attack on the constitutional right of workers to organize and collectively bargain but they also attack on our community because as wages decrease, more and more money from our community will be siphoned off and put into the hands of the wealthiest whose obscene riches cannot even be spent. The equity that you and I build in this community is taken from us by a rapacious demon – the demon of profits above people – and we often stand by without a word.

Yesterday, at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in St. Louis I preached about Jesus exorcising a demon as one of his first public acts of ministry. As a minister of the Gospel, I stand to say that we must exorcise the demon of “profits over people” and defeat these anti-worker bills. They do no good for our state, they place burdens on the middle class and poor, and they devastate our communities. Say no to these bills.