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CLUE: A dedicated ally to NUHW and all workers

NewsFebruary 22, 2022

Clergy and Laity United for Economic Reform (CLUE) has been fighting for low-wage workers and disadvantaged communities for more than 25 years.

Founder Rev. James Lawson worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s and 1960s honing his pro-labor and nonviolence strategies. He founded the labor-union aligned community group in Los Angeles in 1996 as progressive faith leaders rallied behind a living-wage law in the city that faced fierce opposition from some local politicians and business leaders. They convinced a majority of L.A. City Council members to support the measure and commit to overriding a threatened veto from then-Mayor Richard Riordan.

In the quarter century since that victory, CLUE has led other important social actions, including playing a major role in the New Sanctuary movement of the mid 2000s that involved churches opening space for undocumented immigrants, and mobilizing in favor of the $15 per hour local minimum wage in Los Angeles. More recently, CLUE has fought wage theft among port truck drivers at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach; organized a fundraiser for hospitality workers laid off due to the pandemic; and walked the picket lines with NUHW members demanding that West Anaheim Medical Center address a dire staffing crisis.

An amalgam of voices from the Buddhist, Episcopalian, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Methodist faith (among others), CLUE has grown into a Southern California powerhouse, with chapters in Los Angeles and Orange County. Today it continues to bridge the gap between faith communities and the labor movement.

“These battles that workers wage are long, slow, and people can lose hope very easily,” explained Orange County CLUE Organizer Adam Overton, noting that for some employers, this is exactly their strategy — to drag out labor disputes as long as possible. “The faith community reminds the workers that their cause is just.”

The support of the faith community encourages workers to tell their stories to a wider audience and reminds them “it’s not just about a paycheck, but getting what you and your family deserves, the dignity that all our faith traditions stress.”

That search for dignity and respect for the human being has led CLUE to become a sponsor and endorser of the annual May Day marches in Los Angeles, and to criticize Kroger for closing three stores in Los Angeles after the City Council voted in favor of an extra $5 per hour hazard pay law to frontline essential workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When people look for help in Orange County, they go to the Orange County Labor Federation and CLUE. They’ve shown an effective organizing model and unite people that other organizations are not able to. This is where the community comes together,” said NUHW Political and Community Coordinator Michael Soto.

CLUE and NUHW

CLUE has been an NUHW friend and ally since the union’s beginning, joining members at different actions we’ve undertaken over the years, including candlelight vigils by Kaiser Permanente workers urging the company to bargain in good faith toward a fair contract, and at the five-day strike against Kaiser in 2018 by mental health caregivers.

CLUE was also one of NUHW’s strongest supporters during the 2017 contract campaigns involving Keck and Sodexo workers, rallying with members, signing letters of support, and delivering petitions to then-USC President C.L. Max Nikias.

More recently, CLUE has supported NUHW members at Tenet healthcare hospitals in Southern California during their 10-month struggle for a fair contract and as they launched their “Don’t Call Me a Hero” campaign by holding a Zoom community Town Hall.

“Two to three clergy leaders were present in every bargaining session over 10 months,” said Overton proudly. “When they called the cops in Los Alamitos, we showed up to de-escalate the situation and call out management for calling the police on the workers,” he added.

Workers at Tenet hospitals drew strength from CLUE’s participation in their campaign.

“To have clergy members supporting us through such a difficult time, it really helped us persevere,” Lanelle Anderson, a patient dining associate, said. “When you’re fighting for a contract and fighting to save lives in a pandemic, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but our allies at CLUE were always there to remind us that we were fighting for a just cause that was bigger than ourselves.”

Overton said there are a lot of shared values with social justice unions like NUHW.

“Business unions are old-fashioned ones and they’re very focused on not getting a lot of worker input on things,” Overton said. “By contrast, NUHW looks at every member as a potential leader.”

The community group continues to stand on the side of the worker, reminding management to get a “clue” and respect those whose sweat and labor keep companies going.

“Supporting workers can be and is an extension of that faith tradition of finding the dignity of each person, even sitting in and being in a bargaining session can be like a form of prayer,” Overton said.