Jewish Community Must Join the Fight for $15 Minimum Wage

Jaq Basilis and Julie Dancis of Camp Galil and Habonim Dror calling for $15 minimum wage at rally in Rittenhouse Square.  Photo by Sophie Haeuber (April 2014).

Jaq Basilis and Julie Dancis of Camp Galil and Habonim Dror calling for $15 minimum wage at rally in Rittenhouse Square. Photo by Sophie Haeuber (April 2014).

— by Stuart Applebaum

Jewish law and tradition are clear about our duty to fight for the basic rights of all working people.

Shantel Walker makes $9 per hour at the Papa John’s restaurant in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood where she’s worked for the for the last 15 years, almost half her life. Because her wages are so low, she often has to choose between eating lunch or buying a Metrocard to get to work. She shares a one-bedroom apartment with family members, but still worries about making ends meet every month.

But Ms. Walker is not staying silent and letting her challenges get her down. She is standing up and joining with other fast-food workers across the country in calling for fairness and respect on the job. Since late 2012, fast-food workers have been walking off the job as part of regular one-day strikes and their ranks have recently been supported by home health care aides, adjunct professors, airport baggage handlers and other low-wage workers. Their demand? $15 per hour and a union.

The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is nothing close to a living wage. If someone earning the minimum wage is fortunate enough to be able to work full-time hours (and many are not), they would earn only $15,080 per year, which is under the poverty line for a family of two. At the current minimum wage, workers struggle paycheck-to-paycheck, and if they are able to pay all their bills at the end of the month, they are not able to save anything for an emergency, let alone for their retirement.

Rising wages will allow millions of people across the country to lift their heads up and look towards the future with hope. But it will also benefit our economy at-large. A $15 per hour minimum wage will inject billions of dollars into local economies as many are finally able to buy new clothing for their children and other basic necessities. It will also ease state budgets, as millions who currently rely on state assistance will finally be able to afford groceries and rent.

The history of American Jewry demands that we join with workers in their struggle for justice. When many of our ancestors first came to the United States, they worked low-wage jobs in the garment sector and other industries. Their experiences of struggle and pain encouraged many to organize and form unions that then fought for and won many of the basic wage and safety standards that we now take for granted. These gains enabled our families to raise their standards of living to where they are now, but we must never forget what it took to get here.
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A Good List To Be On: The NRA’s Blacklist

Do people still get blacklisted in America?  

The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action has published a list of “organizations, corporations, publications, and celebrities that have lent monetary, grassroots or some other type of direct support to anti-gun organizations.” It features a lot of Jews and Jewish groups:

  • American Jewish Committee
  • American Jewish Congress
  • Jewish Labor Committee
  • National Council of Jewish Women
  • Union of American Hebrew Congregations
  • B’nai B’rith
  • Central Conference of American Rabbis
  • Hadassah
  • Rabbi Paul Menitaff
  • Rabbi David Saperstein
  • Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
  • Actor Ed Asner
  • Actor and Producer Mel Brooks
  • Actor Hal Linden
  • Actor Leonard Nimoy
  • Actor Jerry Seinfeld
  • Actor Henry Winkler
  • Mayor Ed Koch z’l

They have also blacklisted medical groups such as the Ambulatory Pediatric Association, the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, the National Association of Public Hospitals and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the League of Women Voters of the United States, and the National Association of Police Organizations.

Read the complete list. I think you will agree that this is the sort of “blacklist” any self-respecting organization would like to be on.

Immigration “Reform” Discussed at Panel

The impact of racism and fear over immigration on local economics and politics will be the topic of a panel discussion, held at the Liberties Bar, 709 North Second Street, 2nd floor, on Thursday, February 23, 2012, at 7:00 PM.
The panel discussion will be sponsored by the Philadelphia chapter of the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC), the Philadelphia chapter of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), and Philadelphia Jobs with Justice.

More after the jump.
The panel will include:

  • State Representative Babette Josephs;
  • Wendell W. Young IV, President United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union Local 1776;
  • immigration attorney David Bennion, Esq.; and
  • immigration activist Jessica Hyejin Lee.

The panel will be moderated by Judi Bernstein-Baker, Executive Director of HIAS Pennsylvania.

See flyer for more details.

Labor Day Message from the Jewish Labor Committee

First Labor Day parade, Union Square, New York, 1882.

— Stuart Appelbaum, President, Jewish Labor Committee

This year, Labor Day falls during the same week as Rosh Hashana.  While Labor Day may be considered by many to be the summer’s last hurrah, or another shopping day, its original purpose was to honor the contribution that the labor movement has made to American society.  Just as in the first week of the Jewish “Days of Awe” – from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur, when we strive to make amends for interpersonal sins, and hope that we can do better in the year to come – we can and should see Labor Day as a time to reflect, and to become better, by respecting and honoring those who labor.

More after the jump.
The first Labor Day in the United States was celebrated back in 1882 in New York City, and soon spread to communities across the country.  Twelve years later, in the aftermath of the bloody 1894 Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland made it a priority to secure legislation making Labor Day a national holiday.  It was indeed passed, unanimously, in Congress and signed into law six days after the end of the strike.  For more than a century, all 50 states have made Labor Day a state holiday, originally devoted to “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community.

Throughout its history, the American labor movement has been standing up for the needs of working men and women and their families – first and foremost in representing workers at the bargaining table, to secure decent contracts, decent working conditions, and decent benefits. The labor movement has secured benefits for all of us, not just union members – from the fight 75 years ago for Social Security, to the fight 45 years ago to establish Medicare, and most recently, in the struggle for health care reform.  It was American unions who led the fight for minimum wage laws, and then for increases to keep up with the increased cost of living.  

But this is not just about history – it is about today.  The struggle to improve the lives of workers is just as necessary today as it was in earlier decades.

That’s why the labor movement and its allies, including the Jewish Labor Committee, marched this year on Wall Street to call for government programs that focus on the working and living conditions of all workers, not just the CEOs of large corporations.  That’s why this past winter, more than 200 rabbis heeded our call and signed onto a petition vowing to boycott three Boston area hotels until the layoffs of the “Hyatt 100” were reversed; rabbis, cantors, and other Jewish communal leaders are committing themselves to continue the struggle to improve the working conditions of all hotel workers.  That’s why we fight against corporations such as Mott’s, that, in spite of earning record profits, are trying to force their workers to accept wage and benefits cuts. That’s why we advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, and march to end the abuses against farm workers who pick our fruits and vegetables, or factory workers who toil in sweatshops to make our clothes, whether they are union members or not.  

This year, we urge that national, state and local priorities serve the needs of working people as well as those currently unemployed.  Especially now, more government spending, targeted to create decent, well-paying jobs, is needed.  

This year, let us work to pass meaningful government legislation, from a bill to guarantee paid sick leave for all workers to the Employee Free Choice Act.  These can make real differences in the lives of working families.  The Jewish Labor Committee is committed to doing everything possible to pass this much-needed legislation – and we urge our members and friends to do the same.

Standing up for working families encompasses a range of strategies, and a range of possibilities.  During 2010’s Labor Day and as the Jewish New Year of 5771 begins, we hope that many in the Jewish community will join us as we roll up our sleeves to work with our partners — in the trade union movement, within the Jewish community, and all who are determined to bring forth a society based on true economic justice and prosperity for all.