Church in Virginia pushes for minimum wage increase

Clergy and activists from Arlington, Richmond join Virginia workers on lobby day

The federal minimum wage remains mired at $7.25 per hour – less than $15,000 per year for a full-time worker. That’s not a living wage in any part of the country, and certainly not in fast-growing Virginia. That’s why workers are calling on the state legislature to increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour over the coming years, and why the Church in Virginia is supporting their campaign.

Fr. Bob Cilinski joins members of SEIU 32BJ, the building custodians’ union, urging their legislators to increase Virginia’s minimum wage.

Since Pope Leo XIII wrote his encyclical letter Rerum Novarum in 1891, the Church has affirmed that every worker deserves a living wage – and that if the labor market doesn’t provide this on its own, society must intervene. That led Monsignor John Ryan, the US Bishops’ first Social Action Director, to help lead the charge for minimum wage laws in the United States. And it’s what has led the American Church to become one of the most persistent supporters of efforts to make the minimum wage a living wage.

On January 21, several labor unions representing workers in low-wage occupations – notably Northern Virginia’s SEIU Local 32BJ, representing janitors, and UNITE HERE Local 25, representing hotel workers – organized busloads of union workers to travel to the state capital in Richmond to visit their legislators. Accompanying them was Father Bob Cilinski, Chair of the Arlington Diocese Peace and Justice Commission and Pastor of Nativity Church in Burke. It didn’t hurt that Fr. Bob’s parish is located in the district represented by Assembly Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, who was very interested in what Catholic Social Teaching had to offer on the issue! The day ended with a “Raise the Wage” rally where Fr. Bob offered a prayer and Rachel Laustrup of the Diocese of Richmond Office of Social Ministries, joined the group.

Rachel Laustrup, Diocese of Richmond, joins Fr. Bob and union workers rallying for a minimum wage increase

The legislation has continued to advance, but supporters of the “fight for $15” are facing numerous efforts to exclude categories of employees, whether young workers, farm workers, tipped workers, or workers from certain regions of the state. The Catholic Labor Network thanks parishes such as Our Lady Queen of Peace in Arlington which have written their legislators to defend a $15 minimum wage for all our state’s workers, and urges other Virginia residents to do the same. For assistance with this, contact clayton@catholiclabor.org.

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