OPINION: A new kind of slavery

Pastor, United Methodist Church
Windsor, MO

In virtually every city in our nation the unemployed, desperate for any income are turning to labor pools where they are hired for as little as a day. The pools are proliferating at what some see as alarming rates. This problem is international, and is increasingly becoming an issue in our own country.

It’s a kind of “new slavery.”

What is becoming apparent is that the only folks who really benefit from labor pools are the anonymous owners of the businesses who use them for hiring. Labor pools are the “middle-men” between corporations and businesses seeking low-cost workers, usually desperate to find any kind of work.

The labor pools save businesses money in two ways:

First, for companies with a fluctuating labor need, it is cheaper to pay laborers on a day-to-day basis rather than hire qualified workers for the long term.

Second, hiring those workers through labor pools means companies don’t have to pay for benefits or worry about safety issues.

People are hired on a day-to-day basis through labor pools — and these pools often “specialize” in certain ethnic groups. Workers can be charged for transportation costs, safety equipment, food, taxes and social security payments, which are often never paid on behalf of the worker.

Of course, labor pools are nothing new. They were around in Biblical times when laborers could and were often treated as unfairly as they are today. Into that world an ethos was introduced by Jesus who taught workers should be treated fairly and graciously.

Regrettably, fair treatment of workers isn’t a typical characteristic of most employers. What locked-in fairness for many workers were Labor unions giving workers a means to level the playing field and bargain for their deserved pay and benefits.

What does all this mean for us today as Christians, and others in 21st Century America who strive to treat others as they wish to be treated?

  • It means that we have a responsibility for our fellow human beings.
  • It means we are to be concerned when we see our fellow human beings misused and abused to satisfy the greed of others.
  • It means we are to speak out against such abuse and misuse—in short, it means we are to respond like Jesus did to such things.

Let’s be mindful we are citizens of two worlds: this world and this country, but these are secondary to the other citizenship we have — we are also citizens of the Kingdom of God.

And may we always remember that the standards in the Kingdom are much higher and more demanding than those of this world. For employers and unions who provide workers with the fairness they deserve, and Jesus teaches, we are truly thankful as we celebrate the New Year.

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