Greetings, Friends –
Just outside of the historic Corktown neighborhood of Detroit stands Michigan Central Station. Once the tallest rail stations in the world when it was built in 1913, it remained open even as the automobile began to become a more popular form of transportation. It saw many ups and downs, fits and starts, new but waning energy until 1988 when it finally closed. How many jobs were lost as the cars displaced rail trains? How many people were able to find other work as the industry changed and demands on the labor force shifted?
It’s a familiar story for us living in Detroit and in the American Midwest. The effects of what happens to The Big Three are felt by all of us here. And the challenge is not just outsourcing and cheap labor. Sarah Lawton writes that as American jobs become automated, workers may not always be able to keep up with the changing demands on the work force.
Ms. Lawton is the Development Coordinator at the University of California-Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education who has previously worked on economic development and peace issues in El Salvador. She is also an active Episcopalian from the Diocese of California and is a former chair of the Standing Commission for Social Justice and Public Policy.
Ms. Sarah Lawton, proposed Resolution D006: Just Automation and New Technology at the 79th General Convention:
D006 Just Transition: Automation and New Technology
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church urge our members, Office of Government Relations and other agencies, congregations, and dioceses to address the needs and opportunities of local and global economic transition, as such change affects the capacity and dignity of human beings and the welfare of God´s children. As participants in local and global economies, as citizens, and as advocates, The Episcopal Church urges faithfulness to these principles:
– Preparing and investing in people so that society as a whole, including workers and local communities, are ready for the economic transition; and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church support
-Public investment in education and skills necessary to help individuals, families, and communities transition to new industries as some sectors experience contraction while opportunities that require specialized skills grow in other fields; and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church support a
-Transition to a clean-energy economy that meets goals for climate change mitigation and also includes support for good jobs (I.e., jobs with living wages and benefits that can support a family) in new clean-energy industries as well as strong implementation of new technologies to meet new energy standards, recognizing that carbon-based jobs have often been union jobs; and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church support the principle and goal of public funding for
Universal access to community college programs that are preparing students with skills to meet the workforce needs of the present and future, as well as apprenticeship programs, or similar models, that are well articulated with community college programs, labor unions and other worker organizations, and employer workforce development programs, to provide sustainable wages and educational experience on the job; and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church support public
-Policies such as community benefit agreements and local-hire agreements in public works projects and publicly supported industrial development in order to encourage democratic and local control over development and pathways to jobs for underserved local residents;
-The rights of workers everywhere to organize, whether in traditional labor unions or new forms of worker organization, in order to have a voice in their workplaces and in sectoral policy development and national industrial policies as technological change continues to create deep and fast changes within the labor market both within the United States and globally.
Although not part of the resolution’s final form, she offers a scenario to explain the need for a resolution like D006:
The advent of driverless vehicles could result in a drop in the number of deadly motor vehicle accidents; however, it could also result in significant losses for auto mechanics and job losses within the insurance industry. As well, the millions of people who support themselves and their families by driving trucks, buses, and cars face great uncertainty as their expertise and careers are threatened.
The resolution lays out a set of principles that build on the mission emphasis of the Episcopal Church at the intersection of creation care and social justice. At the heart of these principles is a public work and support of individuals and policies that help individuals acquire new skills in the labor market while at the same time supporting industries whose values for clean energy align with ours.
The resolution urges our members, congregations, our denomination’s office of Government Relations and our dioceses to address the challenges and opportunities around how new technologies affect local and global economies starting with individuals and their families. The resolution itself says why this matters: we as Episcopalians are global citizens, we participate in the economy and because we are advocates for the dignity of every human being.
On Easter Day, worshippers in The Episcopal Church marked their participation in Christ’s Resurrection by renewing their baptismal covenant. We recommitted ourselves to keep several promises, one of which was to respect the dignity of every human being. Every person is worthy of consideration, honor, and respect.
In 2018, Ford Motor Company took ownership of the old train station. Ford plans to make it a tech campus where it will develop autonomous car technology. Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, is buried on the grounds of what was once St. Martha’s Episcopal Church in Detroit. The world moves forward, healing from a global pandemic. Businesses and industries will find the new normal and try to make-up for lost time and productivity. The digital revolution will march on. The question is what can we do as advocates for human dignity, to ensure that all of us can march on with it?
As we all pray about how to respond to this Act of Convention, I lift two prayers from the Book of Common Prayer.
Let us pray –
For the Unemployed
Heavenly Father, we remember before you those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work. Guide the people of this land so to use our public and private wealth that all may find suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment for their labor, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Heavenly Father, in your Word you have given us a vision of that holy City to which the nations of the world bring their glory: Behold and visit, we pray, the cities of the earth. Renew the ties of mutual regard which form our civic life. Send us honest and able leaders. Enable us to eliminate poverty, prejudice, and oppression, that peace may prevail with righteousness, and justice with order, and that men and women from different cultures and with differing talents may find with one another the fulfillment of their humanity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
~ The Rev. Anthony Estes, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council