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Sermon 2020 Sep 6 Joseph God sovereignty

COVID-19 AND WORKER JUSTICE - MAY 1, 2020

 As our leaders discern when and how we are to re-open businesses within our state, Iowa’s workers will live with the impact of their decisions. One industry’s employees have been particularly affected. I first became aware of challenges and conditions for workers in this industry when I was living and working (in a completely different line of work) in Muscatine, Iowa years ago, in the mid-1980s. During that time I encountered many of the Mexican immigrants in nearby Columbus Junction through my volunteer activities. They were workers at the IBP meat processing plant (now Tyson), and their families. I have never forgotten them.

 Early in the 20th century Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle portrayed horrific conditions and exploitation among the largely immigrant workforce in the Chicago-based meat packing industry. Throughout the decades, by the time I was young in the 1970s, labor unions had greatly improved the lives of workers in the industry. The jobs were still difficult and unpleasant I’m sure, but they were stable jobs with middle class wages and good benefits. Some of my friends’ and neighbors’ fathers worked in meat processing plants.

 In the 1980s this changed. Fewer and larger firms became dominant in meat processing, leaving both farmers and our food supply more vulnerable. These companies operated on slim profit margins, recruited non-union immigrant workers, and often re-opened closed plants with economic development incentives from state and local governments. I remember the subsidies that were offered to IBP (now Tyson foods) in Iowa in that time. Wages were reduced by up to half, line speeds were increased, injuries increased, and government oversight decreased. Meat processing has returned to The Jungle.

 Today, jobs at meat processing plants are again largely filled by immigrants – people often vilified for “taking American jobs” in normal times (though they are recruited by the companies specifically for these particular jobs), yet unpraised for being “essential workers” during the coronavirus crisis – as well as Latinos and African-Americans. Work conditions are horrible both from both a physical and psychological standpoint. The median wage for a line worker today is $13.24 per hour, or $27,550 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In contrast, executive pay at Tyson Foods in 2019 ranged from $3.5 million to $10.3 million according to the company’s proxy statement to the SEC.

 The rural outbreak “hot spots” throughout the Midwest are communities with meat processing plants, and states with those plants are still increasing in number of COVID 19 cases, including Iowa. When there is a COVID 19 outbreak within a meat processing plant, the virus is carried home by workers to large and/or multiple families, because lower income people cannot afford individual homes. These family members often work either elsewhere in the community or in plants in nearby communities. The outbreak spreads. Meat processing plants are now required to stay open, regardless of outbreaks, due to an executive order signed by President Trump using the Defense Production Act. Many workers are frightened, facing a choice between losing their jobs or returning to work and risking their own and their loved ones’ health.

I have not had any church members request the Quarantine Bags yet. So, I plan to take some of them to the Columbus Junction United Methodist Church early next week, to extend our prayers, God’s love and a little TLC to that community. I would also ask that we all hold these workers in our prayers, as they face difficult choices and dangerous places so that we as a country may benefit. 

 MISSING CHURCH? WE ARE SPIRITUAL, YES, BUT WE ARE ALSO RELIGIOUS - APRIL 24, 2020

 We are individually spiritual, but together we are religious. We are connected to each other. To all of those in the church who taught us, nurtured us, made us laugh, sat with us as we grieved, served food and washed dishes with us, and helped us make repairs within the church walls. To those who are still living, and to those who have died whom we miss.

 Here or gone, physically present or remotely connected, all are with us. And beyond even those we have known, the holy saints of the church are all around us. The disciples who gathered together with Jesus in the upper room, and then later huddled together in a house, hiding from Roman authorities. The women who stood at the foot of the cross, and then later at the empty tomb. The walkers on the road to Emmaus, who at first didn’t recognize the one they were missing the most. The early church members that gathered together to share food, stories and love for God.

Here, sheltering at home, when I cannot be with the ones I love, I realize that I am religious. I am absolutely, wholly, tied to the ones I love. They are not here in body, but I can feel them – you – guiding me and shaping me. We are tied together.

 So take courage! I know some of you are feeling alone, but the saints are all around you. They will not let you go.

Blest be the tie that binds

our hearts in Christian love;
the fellowship of kindred minds
is like to that above.

 

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At Coralville UMC we affirm people of all ages, races, ethnicities, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations, physical and mental abilities, and socio-economic status. We believe that prejudice, hatred, or discrimination directed toward any individual or group is contrary to the life and spirit of Jesus Christ.  Therefore, we shall work to eliminate prejudice and discriminatory practices within ourselves and our community, and to show grace, in Jesus’ name.

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You can read the statement released by our Bishop, Laurie Haller, and the Appointive cabinet, here