Tag Archives: Economic Justice
Rabbi Neil Hirsch

This Election Day, Vote on Question 4

(This piece originally appeared in the Western Massachusetts Jewish Ledger)

By Rabbi Neil Hirsch
Carol, a congregant at my synagogue, is a 5th grade teacher in the Framingham public schools who has recently gotten into the habit of glancing at her watch at 11:30 AM. That’s when the requests to go to the nurse begin. Why 11:30? Why like clockwork? That’s when the Tylenol wears off for her students who come to school sick. Their parents, who cannot afford to take a day off to care for their children, gave them Tylenol in hopes of keeping their child’s symptoms at bay. So, Carol sends the children to the nurse, hoping that they’ll spend the day there instead of being sent back to the classroom to be with everyone else because the nurse’s office is at full capacity.

The school cannot send the students home because their caregivers are off at work. Because many parents do not earn sick leave, our school systems are taxed and our workspaces are exposed to illness. Simply put, the fact that many workers here in Massachusetts cannot earn hours of paid sick leave is holding us back as a community.

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Marriage Equality and the RAC

Beyond Marriage Equality: the Challengers Facing the LGBT Elderly Community

Many workers look forward to the day they can retire and spend their days relaxing rather than working for the remainder of their lives. Unfortunately, many LGBT people do not have this luxury. Due to a lifetime of discrimination, older LGBT people face a variety of challenges at much higher rates than their straight peers.

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Not Just the Federal Level: States Can Also Work To Raise The Wage

Earlier this month, we called on Congress to raise the minimum wage on 10/10 (October 10), by passing The Fair Minimum Wage Act (H.R 1010) and The Minimum Wage Fairness Act (S. 1737), two bills that would increase the minimum wage from $7.25/hour to $10.10/hour through a series of gradual increases.

Yet even though Congress is on recess until November 12, this absence does not mean that individuals are no longer fighting to combat economic inequality. As the conversation on increasing the minimum wage moves from the federal level to the states, there are four measures on the ballot this November that would raise the wage..

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Yes on Question 4 in Massachusetts; earned sick time now

Double Booked: In Massachusetts, Ballot Question 4 Brings Us Home

By Rabbi Matthew Soffer

When I read the language Question 4 (a ballot question to ensure earned sick time in the Commonwealth), and I contemplate how Jewish values relate, I’m drawn particularly to that fundamental paradigm of home vs. exile, which is so central to Judaism. Obviously, the emergence of the State of Israel gave physical, geographical shape to that exile/home binary, but fundamentally we know that exile vs. home is a metaphysical issue. That our tradition demands that we recognize exile when we see it, that we mourn over it, and that we fight to come home.

From the literal exiles of 586 BCE to 70CE, and in the Rabbinic Period when the bayit (the home), the dinner table to be more specific, according to one Talmudic voice, replaced the altar in the Temple: fighting to come home, in our tradition, is “how we roll.”
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On this October 10, let's raise the minimum wage to 10 dollars an hour, and urge your members of congress to raise the wage at rac.org/alerts

On 10/10, Let’s Raise the Minimum Wage to $10.10/Hour

This Friday, it will be October 10th, or 10/10, a timely and unique opportunity for a major campaign to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10/hour, a $2.86/hour increase from its current rate of $7.25/hour.

Over the last forty years, the real value of the minimum wage has fallen by close to 30%, demonstrating a need to raise the wage to account for changing cost values. The 1968 federal minimum wage would be worth over $10/hour in today’s dollars – yet our current minimum wage of $7.25/hour is far below that. Our current minimum wage translates to a lifetime of poverty, not near enough for anyone to live by: in no states can a minimum wage worker afford a two-bedroom apartment working a 40 hour week. Read more…

Not Everyone Has a Sukkah To Call Home

This week, Jews around the world will be building sukkot (the plural of sukkah, a temporary three-walled shelter commemorating the booths or huts the Israelites built in the desert) to celebrate the aptly-named festival of Sukkot, which also celebrates our thanks for the fall harvest. Households and communities each build a sukkah and Jews are commanded to stay in these sukkot for the period of the festival: “You shall dwell in sukkot for seven days, every person in Israel will dwell in sukkot. In order that your generations will know that I made the children of Israel dwell in Sukkot when I took them out of Egypt, I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 23:42-43).

Yet while Jews build and live in temporary dwellings for a week (most of which are very close to permanent housing), many Americans are not given this flexibility. On a given night in 2012, 633,782 people were experiencing homelessness in the US. 3.5 million people experience homelessness in a given year. The number of homeless students reached an all-time high in 2012 of more than a million, or 2% of the student population. Many who are homeless work in full or part time jobs: a tumultuous economy makes it even more challenging for Americans to have a home to call their own. Even if they are employed, it is hard for many workers to earn enough money to own their own home.

One way that we can take action this Sukkot is by encouraging Congress and the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Administration (FHFA) to re-establish adequate funding for the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF). In 2008, Congress created the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) to create 3.5 million affordable housing units. However, due to a loophole in the law, the NHTF never received funding and it’s time to look for alternatives that will make this effort successful. Sequestration cuts have further restricted the number of programs available. Take action and urge tell your Members of Congress and FHFA Director Mel Watt to reestablish funding for the National Housing Trust Fund.

In addition to being commanded to build these shelters, we are instructed to welcome others into them: “When the people of Israel leave their homes and enter the sukkah for the sake of God’s name, they merit to welcome the Divine Presence there, and all the seven shepherds descend from Gan Eden and come to the sukkah as their guests” (Zohar, Emor 103a).” Helping the homeless is not a choice; rather, it is an obligation. As we are reminded of the importance of inviting others to visit our sukkah, we need to ensure that those who do not have a home have a place to go and we must act to ensure that these individuals can have homes in the future.

This morning, the RAC staff worked together to build a sukkah, which is outside of our building on Massachusetts Avenue. The RAC will also be hosting a Lunch in the Sukkah next Tuesday (October 14) at 12 pm. We look forward to welcoming you into our Sukkah to celebrate Sukkot – make sure to RSVP so you can join us next Tuesday.

This Sukkot, as you sleep under the stars and think of the harvest, think of how fortunate we are to choose to give up our permanent shelter for one week a year for our Sukkot and what we can do to ensure that no one needs to lack shelter outside of this one week a year.

Supreme Court

Supreme Court Case Young v. UPS Highlights Unique Common Ground Between Advocacy Groups

With our mandate to work on more than 70 social justice issues, we know that our voice is stronger when joined with our partners to make the changes we wish to see. In our work on the upcoming Supreme Court case Young v. United Parcel Service, we’ve done exactly that, this time with an unusual collection of advocacy groups who have come together around an issue on which we all agree.

In Young v. UPS, the Court will decide under what conditions, if any, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (the PDA) requires an employer that provides work accommodations to employees who are not pregnant but who have work limitations to provide like accommodations to pregnant employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.” The plaintiff is Peggy Young, a UPS delivery driver who became pregnant and whose doctor recommended she refrain from lifting packages heavier than 20 pounds to help ensure a healthy pregnancy. UPS denied Young the accommodation, instead forcing her to take an extended, unpaid leave of absence until she could return to work after her child was born. In addition to her wages, Young lost her medical insurance during her leave, compounding the economic hardship that resulted from UPS’s refusal to accommodate her medical needs. Young sued UPS under the PDA, which clarifies that pregnancy discrimination is, indeed, a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Read more…

Back to the Bench: First Day of the Supreme Court Term

If you’re a Supreme Court fanatic like I am, you’ve been eagerly awaiting the start of this year’s term for months (well, since early July). It’s finally here. I’m excited to begin following the justices again, although I’m a bit nervous for possible case outcomes this year given the Court’s recent decisions. Even if you haven’t been counting down the days, you should consider keeping up with the Court this year exactly because its recent decisions and upcoming cases are so critical. As we saw in cases like Citizens United and Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the Court can shape law and spark national debate in a profound way. The cases the Court will hear this year promise to do the same:

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