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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10 Ideas to Save the Economy

— by Brian Stewart

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich proposes solutions to some of our nation’s toughest challenges.

These 10 ideas could save our economy for the many—not just the wealthy few. We are offering common-sense solutions to the problems we face today and explaining why they are necessary and important. It’s a bold agenda—from raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, to expanding rather than cutting Social Security, to making public higher education free, to raising taxes on the wealthiest members of our society to pay for it.

He hopes to “change the national conversation and put these ideas on Congress’ agenda as well as to make sure these ideas are addressed on the campaign trail for the 2016 presidential election.”

The first video in the series, on increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, comes just hours after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in a New York Times op-ed that he would task the state’s labor commissioner with convening a panel focused on raising wages for 180,000 fast-food workers in the state. Organizers pushing for minimum wage hikes praised the move. “Fast-food workers going on strike and speaking out for $15 and union rights have sparked a global Fight for $15 movement that is leading cities, states and elected officials to raise wages,” said Flavia Cabral, a 53-year-old mother of two from the Bronx who works at McDonald’s and is a leader in the Fight for $15 movement.

People thought we had no chance to win when we first started calling for $15 here in New York City. But today $15 is the new baseline for service jobs all in all kinds of industries all over the United States. Seattle passed $15, San Francisco passed $15 and now New York City is going to be next. Elected leaders realize that helping workers win $15 an hour is a winning political issue. Helping people improve their lives and move into the middle class is and always has been a winning political issue.

The second video in the series features Reich outlining key policies that will help working families succeed economically, including universal child care, paid family leave, and ensuring equal pay for equal work.

According to MomsRising Executive Director and CEO Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner:

The sad fact is right now having a baby is a leading cause of poverty spells in the United States. Every day we hear stories from our more than one million MomsRising members about their struggles with unequal pay, lack of paid family leave and paid sick leave, and lack of access to affordable child care. These are fundamental issues that need to be addressed so our families and our economy can thrive. The fact of the matter is that our labor force is 50% women for the first time in history, but our public policies are still stuck in the Stone Ages. It’s time to catch up.