December 26, 2014. ABC News.
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) — A group of Charleston’s religious leaders are fighting for better pay for local kitchen workers. They’re called the Justice Ministry and each year they pick a problem to tackle in the Charleston area.
Twenty-seven different churches create the Charleston Area Justice Ministry. All members are seated by congregation, waiting to cast their vote after months of discussions on profiling, healthcare, and wages.
“I’m a glorified dishwasher but cleaning your kitchen is just as important as serving the food,” said Angela Washington, who works in the back of the house in a Charleston restaurant.
It was Washington’s testimony that left voters in serious thought about which cause should become their justice mission for 2015. Washington, who is working to finish her GED after years of staying home with her family, told the crowd her world changed when her husband suddenly became disabled forcing her to enter the workforce for the first time.
“I walk 45 minutes to this job on Sundays and will continue to because I need the money,” said Washington.
The majority of the ministry voted in favor to work to close the wage gap.
“You should make a wage that’s livable, that helps you live decently in a community as rich as Charleston,” said co-president of the Justice Ministry, Rev. Nelson Rivers III.
Rivers describes the organization as a grassroots campaign. Rabbi Stephanie Alexander is also co-president who says they follow encouragement from the Torah and the Bible.
“Micah teaches that we are supposed to do justice, love mercy and walk humble with our God,” said Alexander.
Each year a mission is chosen. The next phase is months of research to find ways to solve the issue.
“We’re really looking forward to this because it affects people across race, across strata, across backgrounds,” said Rivers.
Fixing wages will be the third group effort by the ministry. One year they worked to improve educational needs in the Charleston County School District.
Dr. Lisa Herring is the district’s Chief Academic Officer. She says the partnership started with at sit down meeting on expectations.
“The initial expectations coming from the ministry is a little bit more complex for us to fix immediately, considering we are a public school district,” said Herring.
The ministry mission that year was to change the number of seats available for pre-K, the end goal being more students prepared to read on the first day of Kindergarten. Herring said it’s a priority for the district but there is always the issue of revenue, resources and budget.
“The conversation had to be around the work we’ve already done partnered with the urgency,” said Herring.
Herring says the district and the ministry had to come together multiple times to discuss what could be done.
“At the end of the day we all want what’s best for every child and wanted that to happen as quickly as it could,” said Herring.
On June 24, 2013 the Justice ministry announced the Board of Trustees approved then-Superintendent Dr. Nancy McGinley’s proposal to fund 300 additional slots for early childhood education.
“There’s been some misunderstanding. I think we strive for dialogue whenever possible, there will be misunderstanding. Maybe we can do a better job of explaining what we do,” said Alexander.
Alexander says they believe in their research process and she expects the ministry will impact wages in Charleston for years to come.
“I think we all want the city to be as good of a place to live as we hear it is to visit and a big part of that is making sure that those who are contributing to this community who are working hard are able to earn enough so that they can support their families. I think everyone will get behind that,” said Alexander.
The ministry is in the middle of its research phase and will announce a plan this Spring.