I told this story in a sermon. A South Asian Business group “custom builds factories and hires a local work force to produce clothing in response to a specific order from a specific company. When the large order is filled, the group dismantles the factory and sets up shop in another, cheaper country to fill a future order.” (Michael Gecan, Going Public, 154) It’s brilliant. It’s cheaper to dismantle and rebuild a factory than it is to invest in local economies and communities. “Suspend judgment for a moment on the damage to the environment, the impact on the lives of the temporarily employed workers, and the pressure this puts on third world nations to provide tax breaks and other inducements. Take a moment to appreciate the focus, the speed and the adaptability of those on the edgy margins of the market culture.” (Michael Gecan, Going Public, 154) They are just making money; that’s the purpose of their business. Make money. They play on the desperation of workers relieved to have even temporary employment. It’s the new feudal system.
Something similar is happening here in the Inland Empire in relationship to temporary employment. The Inland Empire is a laboratory for a new kind of work force: the temporary labor market. Almost half the goods imported into the US come through the ports at Los Angeles and Long Beach. These goods are brought on rail cars and trucks to warehouses in the Inland Empire. The warehouse industry provides little to no tax base for the infrastructure from which it benefits because nothing is sold, just stored. We are the nation’s storage unit.
The 100,000 people employed in the warehouses are mostly minimum wage workers employed through temporary agencies. Temporary employment has shot up by an astounding 575% between 1990 and 2007. (Nicholas Allen, Exploring the Inland Empire: Life, Work, and Injustice in Southern California’s Retail Fortress.) The result has been increasing instability in communities, growing poverty and added pressure on the thinning safety net of government and charitable social services. During a time of economic prosperity, the Inland Empire was positioning itself to be a region dedicated to low wage work. We are the laboratory for a new kind of workforce now being replicated in other parts of the country: temporary employee. It’s brilliant. The corporation contracts an agency to handle all the employment, human resource issues. Employment is outsourced; gone are the headaches of hiring, firing, benefits, etc.
Why should we care? Because the health and stability of the region in which our church is planted is at stake. Last Sunday, 150 people from over 20 institutions across the Inland Empire gathered to hear the sobering news and to hear some good news about what we are doing about it. Through Inland Empire Sponsoring Committee, we are working with California Technical Education Center (CTEC) at the Fairplex to provide people to be trained for highly skilled, manual labor, middle class wage jobs. We also initiated conversation with the city of Pomona to broker a meeting with major health care stakeholders in Pomona. That meeting happened yesterday to begin developing Garey Ave. as a health care corridor with an eye to providing more job opportunities. (A link to an article about this event, hosted at FCC Pomona: http://www.dailybulletin.com/ci_16551478 )
What does this have to do with our Christian faith? Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has called me to preach good news to the poor…” What is good news to the poor? Certainly not a temporary, low paying job with no hope of improvement. Certainly not public schools gutted by a lack of funding, schools that offer the children of the poor an opportunity to improve their earning ability. Our Christian values are very relevant to the mission field in which we live. We don’t have to travel to another continent to go on a mission trip. We can save ourselves the airfare, roll up our sleeves and get to work.
The work begins with building relationships within our church and with people in other institutions: other faith communities, unions, business people, people in the public sector, elected officials. It would be easier to stay home and watch “Dancing With the Stars”, but as people who follow Jesus, our mandate is clear: be good news.