Still Struggling in The Workplace

This post is part of our Passover series, in which we think about the application of our age-old Passover story and traditions to the crucial issues we face today. For ways to infuse your seder with social justice, see our holiday guide.

The Passover story becomes a grand one about liberation and the birth of the Jewish people, but we cannot forget that it begins with questions of justice in the workplace. Moses’ moment of realization comes from witnessing the mistreatment of a worker by a supervisor. That indignity is the spark that mobilizes an entire movement, an entire people. The question remains, what will we do today when we witness the indignities and injustices still faced by millions in the workplace? To be clear, these injustices do not rival that of slavery, but they merit our attention and action.

There are several issues that confront all workers in America today, but particularly affect those among us who make the least. More than 4 in 10 private sector workers and over 80% of low-wage workers do not have access to paid sick days. That’s 40 million employees who can’t miss a day of work to recover from common, short-term illnesses. This is both a labor issue and a public health issue as many, including ¾ of the food service industry, are forced to come to work with potentially contagious conditions. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) just reintroduced the Healthy Families Act which would enable all workers to earn paid sick leave.

Another major labor issue confronting America’s workplaces is the lack of a living wage. As President Obama highlighted in his State of the Union speech, today’s minimum wage leaves even full-time employees in poverty. It is absurd that someone working forty hours a week would still not be able to feed their family. Senator Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) have introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage and you can add your voice to their critical call for justice.

Check out our new Labor Haggadah to add these important questions to your Passover celebrations this year.

Then there are those issues that only some of us face in the workplace, but should concern us all. Despite years of struggle and considerable gains, women still face disparate treatment in the workplace. On average American women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar that men make. This wage disparity has significant effects on women and families across the country. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Rep. DeLauro (D-CT) have introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act to help address this problem; tell your members of Congress that you stand with them!

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers also face injustice in the workplace. In 29 states it remains legal to fire, refuse to hire, demote or fail to promote someone because of their sexual orientation; in the 34 states employers can do so based on someone’s gender identity. This lack of protection leads to higher unemployment, poverty and homelessness rates in the LGBT community. The RAC has long worked to ensure these protections for LGBT people across the country, and as this issue has shown promise of moving again in the 113th Congress we have redoubled our efforts, including significant advocacy on the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act and engagement in several state-wide campaigns (read two wonderful op-eds by Reform Rabbis in West Virginia here and here).

Check out the LGBT rights haggadah put together by Rabbi Camille Shira Angel at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco.

The Jewish community has been an integral element of the labor movement from Emma Goldman and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire to today. What will you do this year to bring the stories of those still struggling in the workplace into your seders and your discussions of our people’s ancient struggle?


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About Benny Witkovsky

Benny Witkovsky is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant, he is from Madison, WI, and recently graduated from Vassar College.

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