Marya Axner and Sheila Decter
The struggle for workers’ rights and economic justice is nothing new. Passover is a story, among other things, of worker injustice. Even today many American workers often live perilous lives in unsafe working conditions. Housekeepers and janitors handle toxic chemicals without any protections or training. Day laborers may have their wages withheld without explanation; hourly workers may never see overtime pay, or are forced to work “off the clock.” Without a living wage, and without basic benefits like paid leave, health care coverage, many workers today have to work multiple jobs, giving up valuable time with their families.
Many workers have no say in their working conditions. Many workers give up their dignity to serve the bottom line of their employers.
We spend much of our lives working, so it’s important that all people are respected for their work, no matter their position. Respect for one’s work is demonstrated in many ways, such as paying workers decent wages, listening to how they think the work could best be done, and allowing time and flexibility for people to pay attention to their families and their own health. The Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) and the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA) understand that low-wage workers and middle class workers are often taken advantage of and that it’s important to stand up for those workers.
For the better part of a century, many in the Jewish community have supported union campaigns and pieces of legislation that have improved the lives of thousands of people. When businesses and legislators see that the Jewish community takes a stand on worker issues, it makes a significant difference. In the past year, JLC and JALSA have supported Verizon workers, janitors, and Harvard dining hall workers to win union contracts that improved their wages, provided job security, and improved or continued their healthcare benefits. Currently, in the state legislature, we are working to pass an increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and to pass the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, to help employees when they or their family members are ill, or when a new child comes into the family.
It’s a shame that in 2017, so many workers must still choose between their job and the needs of their family. Our working families are the backbone of our economy and they deserve to be treated with respect.
Passover offers us an opportunity to renew our commitment to improve the lives of working people and to think about what types of action we can take to do so.
Marya Axner is the regional director of the Jewish Labor Committee and Sheila Decter is the executive director of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action. They can be reached at email@example.com.