A huge thank you to one of our Board of Directors, Greg Davis, for his assistance in compiling this historical narrative that covers EJC’s History from the years of 2003-2012!
The Living Wage Coalition was formed in 2003 after Dr. Ray MacNair, a University of Georgia Social Work professor came to understand “living wages” as being much more than the paycheck people bring home. Living wages includes the security of health benefits, steady employment, respect for workers and a safe work environment – conditions present in high wage jobs but systematically denied for low-wage workers.
By 2004, the Living Wage Coalition changed its name to Economic Justice Coalition (EJC) and engaged its first director, Linda Lloyd, a Masters’ level social worker whose work with effectively locked out communities of developmentally disabled people, understanding of Georgia’s local public governance through her former job of county manager and has personal experience with being denied workers’ rights.
To combat low wages in the Athens community, EJC created Unity Labor Partners, a consortium of day laborers in various fields who could support each other in contracting and staffing work. Special attention was paid to undocumented workers who faced double discrimination because of the language barrier. By 2008, English language classes were begun at a local Home Depot which was also the location where employers regularly looked for day labor.
With its growing influence, EJC turned its attention to the hundreds of low wage workers at the University of Georgia. As reported at the time, the University council “formed the committee in March 2006 after two local organizations, the Economic Justice Coalition and the UGA Living Wage Network, asked the university to endorse a proposal for ‘family supportive wages and benefits’ for its lowest-paid workers.” After a year-long study, it was recommended that the lowest starting pay be quickly raised to $24,000 a year. The recession kept that goal at bay for six years.
Over the years, EJC kept up the pressure on UGA, co-sponsoring a movement around Lift the Ban/Raise the Wages at UGA. By focusing not only on the low-wage university employees but also on youth who were denied entry into the institution because of their immigration status, the fight for economic justice expanded. This work blended powerfully into Moral Monday Rallies taking place in Atlanta, events that copied the work of the North Carolina NAACP that had attracted national attention beginning in 2014. Additionally, EJC sponsored Freedom University, a means by which the undocumented youth could take classes from UGA faculty members. Eventually Freedom University expanded to Atlanta and has since assisted hundreds of undocumented students in attending out-of-state high education institutions.
To accompany its work around living wages, EJC became heavily involved in voter registration, education and engagement. Without impacting the ballot box, low-wage workers will forever be hampered by laws that doom their families to poverty, poor housing, minimal healthcare and food deserts. From 2008 forward, the organization has consistently spearheaded this work in Athens-Clarke County. Any other organization engaged in such work has always looked to EJC for leadership. Today, EJC can claim to have registered or updated the voter registrations of over 21,000 Georgia residents.
Thanks to a grant from Interfaith Worker Justice based in Chicago, EJC conducted a feasibility study for a worker owned cleaning cooperative in 2012. The following year, Peachy Green Cleaning Cooperative was established. Partnering with Goodwill Industries, faculty and students from the University of Georgia Law School, operating and membership agreements were written, liability insurance obtained and a business license procured. Another grant allowed EJC to train someone in OSHA safety procedures and offer training/certification to low-income workers.