Open Letter to the Perelman Jewish Day School Board of Directors

Dear Board members,

As the proud father of four children who have all graduated from or currently attend the Perelman Jewish Day School, I am writing to you to ask you to reconsider your unilateral decision to no longer recognize the union which has represented your teachers since 1976.

You assert that the relevant labor laws would otherwise impair your freedom of religion. I am not a lawyer, so I will not argue the legal basis for such a claim. However, I have serious reservations about the halachic, moral and social basis for your action.

This claim that union-busting is part and parcel of our exercise of religion sadly plays into the hands of those anti-Semites to whom the word “Jew” is a verb with a negative connotation.

In fact, exactly the opposite is true; our religion deplores strong arm tactics in employer-employee relations. The Perelman Jewish Day School is affiliated with the Conservative Movement whose Committee on Jewish Law and Standards passed a teshuvah (legal position) on Jewish labor law: Conservative day schools and other institutions must pay a living wage to their workers and “may not interfere in any way with organizing drives.”

More after the jump.
Historically, the Babylonian Talmud gives citizens the right to intervene between a employer and employee to insure the fairness of wages. More recently, orthodox Rabbis such as Eliezer Waldenberg and Moshe Feinstein have recognized the right of workers and even religious school teachers to bargain collectively.

The Jewish people is called upon to be “a light unto the nations”. We should be an example to others and impose a higher standard for ourselves. We should never seize our Jewish identity as a carte blanche to ignore community norms which even Walmart and McDonald are required to follow.

Your lawyers can might advise you about how far you can push the envelope of labor law, but they cannot advise you about derekh eretz.

The board has valid concerns about many issues (such as salary and tenure), but these issues should be addressed with respect at the negotiating table. The teachers do not have the right to get whatever they want in those negotiations, but they should have the right to sit at the table and be heard. If secular law perhaps does not require a religious organization to give unions a voice, then halakhah (Jewish law) and derekh eretz (common decency) does.

Please reconsider your decision and sit down to talk with the union before their contract runs out in August.

Yours, Daniel Loeb

PS: Tomorrow, you are holding your annual fundraiser. However, instead I will be making my donation to the Jack H. Barrack Hebrew Academy (even though I have no child who attends school there). By recognizing their teachers’ union, they show the kind of kavod (respect) which we hope our children will model.  

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  1. geostern says

    The Jewish Social Policy Action Network applauds Dan Loeb’s letter to the Perelman Jewish Day School board. As an advocacy organization steeped in progressive Jewish values, JSPAN has consistently supported quality education, fair wages, and the right of workers to organize. In a letter to the Perelman board when the news first broke, JSPAN noted that the board had failed to provide information regarding any present circumstances or specific educational goals that required this action. “You have not explained to the teachers, the families of students or the public why you are denying and refusing to recognize the employees’ desire to be represented by the bargaining agent of their choice.” We therefore called upon the board “to take your goals and specific plans to the bargaining table and to make every good faith effort to reach the desired outcome, treating your faculty with the respect they deserve.”
    Rabbi George Stern,
    Executive Director, JSPAN

  2. says

    While the teshuvah I cite does say that conservative institutions should not interfere union organizing, I did not notice a sentence tucked away in the middle of the discussion on minimum wage: ” I intend for the conclusions of this teshuvah to apply to workers paid by the hour, including maintenance people, security guards, servers, delivery people and other low-wage workers whom synagogues, Jewish institutions or Jewish employers might hire.” (page 15) While the logic behind the teshuvah and the many Jewish sources cited would certainly support my position that unions should be promoted since they protect the rights of all workers, it is certainly possible that some of the members of the CJLS only voted in favor of the teshuvah because they believe it restricted itself to minimum wage workers.

    In the spirit of the season of repentance, I am sorry and I apologize for any confusion my letter might have caused. However, I continue to strongly support the right of employees to organize and be heard.

    I thank Rabbi Marc Israel of Temple Beth Hillel Beth El for bringing this sentence to my attention last Shabbat.

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