"Organize protests and rallies and engage with people on a regular basis," says Allison Luthe of her work for Central Indiana's chapter of Jobs with Justice (JwJ). "It's part of the job description."
Luthe put in plenty of overtime during this year's legislative session at the Indiana Statehouse. Central Indiana's JwJ played an important role in organizing workers and other citizens to stand up against Republican efforts to undermine union organizing and teachers' collective bargaining rights. The results were historic, as wave upon wave of protesters showed up to fill statehouse halls for days at a time.
JwJ is a national nonprofit organization, with an Indianapolis branch that has been in existence since 2000. Each branch is a coalition consisting of labor unions, community groups, faith-based organizations, student groups and individuals.
In Indianapolis, JwJ first made news by organizing public meetings to discuss a contract dispute between union workers and management at Brylane in Fountain Square. The meetings gave workers a chance to air their grievances in a public forum attended by elected officials, community leaders and university scholars.
Through public meetings like these, JwJ has been able to create community pressure in resolving problems. The organization has convened meetings on behalf of janitors, hotel workers, state employees and most recently, Marsh workers. "They all had their own workplace issues," says Luthe. "We brought community attention to them and let them be heard."
Creating these forums is important for general public awareness, but Luthe says it also affects workers' sense of themselves. "I think it has just as big an impact for the workers to know they're not alone," she said. Management representatives are always invited to the meetings; unfortunately, they rarely attend.
This year's legislative session impressed JwJ with the need to expand their scope. "It put into perspective how much work we have to do from a political perspective," says Luthe. "It can't just be about workplace issues and it can't be just one group of employees versus one employer." According to Luthe, there's potential for immigrant, GLBT, labor and women's groups to unite. "That's the next phase I see for Jobs with Justice. We'll stick to our core purpose of workers' rights and social justice, but broaden to say we can fight this fight together."
Luthe thinks the statehouse protests have helped create a shift in how everyday people view dissent. "It put a face on what protest looks like. Now, instead of heckling us, people say, keep up the good work. People feel more comfortable speaking out because we did it in a very respectful, legal way."
Jobs with Justice, she points out, isn't a union organization. It's about people: "It helps educate the community from a worker's perspective. It's not the union perspective. It's not the corporate agenda. It's the workers -- you can't deny the stories that they tell."
Central Indiana Jobs with Justice
917-0723, ext. 33