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Vince was the editor of "Let's Go to the Movies for Older Youth" and "Let's Go to the Movies for Young Adults." He has also written several movie studies that are available on The Thoughtful
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A Gathering Voices Post by Vince Patton My father worked as a line stockman for a General Motors plant in Cincinnati, Ohio, for more than twenty years. I have vivid memories of him talking to my mother about his walks on the picket lines in the 1970s. Later in the... Continue reading
How Might Our Faith and Life Prompt Us to Reflect on the Issue of Collective Bargaining Rights in Wisconsin? My father worked as a line stockman for a General Motors plant in Cincinnati, Ohio, for more than twenty years. I have vivid memories of him talking to my mother about... Continue reading
Posted Apr 1, 2011 at Vince Patton's Blog
Faith, Life, and the Collective Bargaining Issue in Wisconsin My father worked as a line stockman for a General Motors plant in Cincinnati, Ohio, for more than twenty years. I have vivid memories of him talking to my mother about his walks on the picket lines in the 1970s. Later in the 1980s I remember my father’s stories of union leaders engaging in lengthy conversations with plant managers before company officials elected to close the plant in 1983, a decision that devastated the township of Norwood for more than two decades. My father was later transferred to a manufacturing plant in Bedford, Indiana, which took him away from our family during most work weeks. After two years General Motors gave him permission to transfer to a facility in Dayton, Ohio. My father’s proud membership in the United Auto Workers (UAW) Union, my faith, and my concern for just wages have helped shape my opinion about unions and the recent discussions over collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. In the 1960s and 1970s unions were one of the few vehicles that enabled African Americans, other racial ethnic minorities, and whites who may not have an opportunity to attend college to attain middle-class lifestyles. Such was the case with my father. His employment with General Motors and his subsequent membership in the UAW allowed him to obtain a home big enough to support his family and a house in a safer neighborhood, both of which were instrumental in my graduation from high school and college. Last month Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker publicly announced that he was not willing to negotiate with officials of the state’s public employee unions en route to making massive budget reductions. His bold pronouncement prompted hundreds of college students, teachers, and firefighters, and a group of ardent supporters to protest on the steps of the state’s capitol building. But what was most unsettling was Governor Walker’s refusal to ask the wealthiest individuals in the state to pay higher taxes to reduce the deficit while insisting on major concessions by public employee unions. The issue is complicated by the fact that most state budgets are currently faced with tremendous fiscal challenges that threaten to cripple the states’ economies and affect a number of important services for years to come. However, research indicates that public employees have not experienced the types of increases in out-of-pocket healthcare costs that employees from private industry have had to endure. In some instances American citizens have paid higher taxes to cover the services and salaries of public employees. In other cases public employee unions have negotiated contracts for their members that are generous in comparison to the salaries and benefits that workers in private industry receive. Governors charged with the task of leading their states in balancing their budgets watched the events in Wisconsin closely, for it is surely an issue with which other states must soon wrestle. Although the manufacturing industry has begun to rebound from one of the worst recessions in U.S. history, the U.S. is now predominantly a service economy. Many of the jobs that have been created in the last decade and a half are those in restaurants, major and discount retail stores, hospitals, and hotels. Individuals occupying such positions don’t have access to unions and therefore have limited ability to obtain fair or even living wages. A little more than twenty-five years ago, I was hired by the City of Cincinnati to teach physically and mentally disabled children to swim in our neighborhood recreation center. Like a lot of city and state employees, I aptly predicted that I would not earn a huge salary but reasoned that I would receive good benefits and have an opportunity for a wonderful work experience. Although I was not a member of a union, I can understand the thinking of the thousands of workers who sign contracts and join unions as city and state employees and who know that in most cases, they will not achieve the “big payday” that individuals in the private sector are more likely to earn. These individuals rely on receiving better-than-average benefits in lieu of bonuses and other perks enjoyed by private industry employees. The news coverage of the debate over the Wisconsin budget and public unions’ collective bargaining rights has faded since the devastating earthquake in Japan and the unfolding events in Libya. But the conversations about public perceptions of unions, the difficult financial realities facing state legislatures, and the unfortunate consequences for many workers should remain matters of concern for Christians. Throughout his life and ministry, John Calvin demonstrated a concern for just wages and helping the weak and the disenfranchised. In John Calvin: Reformer for the Twenty-First Century, William Stacy Johnson reminds us that Calvin expressed a desire to care for all God’s people. He writes, “On the economic front, Calvin spoke constantly in sermons and lectures about the proper use of money, and especially about the need for justice. He was concerned with just wages. His principles of moderation and stewardship aimed to guide the faithful toward an equitable way of living together.” In the midst of the debate over collective bargaining rights for public unions, the Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), joined the Presbytery of John Knox in expressing concerns for the rights of workers to collectively bargain by writing a letter to the Governor. The letter reiterated the denomination’s understanding of collective bargaining and unions and affirmed the church’s public support of the Social Creed for the 21st century. The Social Creed was originally developed in 1908 by the Federal Council of Churches in response to industrialization and the human costs that accompanied the age. In 2008 the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) joined the Federal Council’s successor organization, the National Council of Churches of Christ, in signing the Social Creed for the Twenty-First Century. The document was established address globalization, sustainability, and other concerns including injustice in work places, the number of people who don’t have access to adequate healthcare, continuing low wages of workers, and the loss of employment. In his letter to Governor Scott Walker, the Stated Clerk Parsons writes, “As Presbyterians we base the rights of all workers, corporations, and governments in a doctrine of covenant or mutual accountability that undergirds all contracts and includes our social contract in the United States. We share with many people of faith the conviction that collective bargaining is a concrete measure by which burdens and benefits are shared in a manner deeply consistent with both our faith and our democratic values. Our doctrine of vocation affirms that all human beings have a calling from God to serve the common good. “It is our understanding that your state workers have already agreed to significant sacrifices as an appropriate part of the overall effort to reduce expenses. To take away their future right to collective bargaining is an attack on a basic principle, rather than simply a cost-cutting measure. We challenge your administration to embody fairness and the sharing of burdens in your tax and wage policies, and to lead by your own example.” Although some individuals questioned whether or not it was the church’s place to comment on such a debate, I was proud of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for addressing a major issue of the day. My life story, my commitment to Christ, and my discernment of how God has called me to live out my faith have compelled me to support the Stated Clerk’s letter and to empathize with workers who wish to retain the right to collectively bargain. Some people believe that the church has declined in its significance because it is no longer relevant. Theologian Karl Barth suggested that preachers connect the Bible with events of the day via the newspaper. The most accurate quote from Karl Barth can be attributed to an article from the May 1963 issue of Time Magazine, “Barth recalls that 40 years ago he advised young theologians to take your Bible and your newspaper and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” In The Bible in Politics: How to Read the Bible Politically—Second Edition, Richard Bauckham writes, “To interpret Jesus and his significance in purely political terms would be to reduce Jesus. But we should also be reducing Jesus if we were to exclude the political dimension of his life and fate. Because the Kingdom of God he served embraces the whole of human life, and because he identified in love with human beings whose lives were affected by political structures and policies, his mission impinged on the political along with other dimensions of life. Politics, as we have observed a number of times, is not everything; nor is the political dimension a watertight, autonomous sphere of life; it interacts with all other dimensions of life.” A Brief Statement of Faith, one of the confessions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), calls us as a people of faith to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace. Fair and just wages and collective bargaining rights are certainly issues of justice. In Belonging to God: A Commentary on A Brief Statement of Faith, the late William Placher and David Willis-Watkins write, “Whatever the ultimate destiny of the mighty who drown out the voices of the poor, Scripture identifies God as the Holy One who hears and delivers those who have none other to plead their cause.” Many of our states face immense financial challenges, which include expensive pension plans and rising health care costs for public employee unions. Such problems may best be solved by people from across the political spectrum working together to develop sensible solutions that won’t harm any particular group in disproportionate ways. Our reading of the Bible, our understanding of A Brief Statement of Faith, and our response to God’s call for us to seek justice should prompt us to reflect theologically and biblically upon major issues that impact the human condition. Continue reading
Posted Apr 1, 2011 at Vince Patton's Blog
A Gathering Voices Post by Vince Patton Last week a friend of mine cited the recent protests by the people of Egypt and Hosni Mubarak’s dramatic exit from governance as further evidence of the power of Facebook and Twitter to build community and the enduring relevance of the movie, The... Continue reading
Perhaps there is no more painful experience here on earth than a parent being forced to cope with the loss of a young child. In the new film, Rabbit Hole, Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart portray Becca and Howie, an upper middle-class couple coming to grips with the death of... Continue reading
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Jan 21, 2011