In this season of giving and shopping surrounding Hanukkah, we need to consider where our gifts are coming from and how the workers who help us make these purchases are treated. We need to keep worker’s rights in mind as we pursue this work and ensure that everyone is treated justly.
Labor movements remain to be a key and integral part of our work in advocating for just workplaces. Unions are organized groups of workers formed to protect and to ultimately further the workers’ rights as well as their interests. As independent employees, workers may face harassment, unsafe working conditions, and poverty-level wages. Through unions, workers can advocate that they are treated fairly in the work place: they can advocate for sufficient paychecks, adequate benefits, safety in the workplace, equal opportunities, and most importantly for respect. Workers have fundamental rights to have fair, safe, and healthy workplace environments, and unions help enable ensure that this is a reality.
Unions don’t just fight for workers within that specific union – they push for all workers to have higher minimum wages, encouraging support for better workplace practices at all levels. When workers earn more, they can perform better – unions help create the connection between better workplace practices and an improved minimum wage. The U.S. Department of Labor has also shown that union members are more likely to have health benefits and pensions than non-union workers.
Unionized workers are more likely to earn more than non-unionized workers, showing how the unionized workers see the impacts of these measures. This is especially true for people of color in the workforce. Additionally, as union membership has fallen, the share of household income going to those in the bottom 20% has also fallen and poverty levels are highest in states that are the lowest in union membership. States with higher levels of unionization also have stronger social safety net programs.
Our Jewish community has a long history of being involved with the labor movement, and many of the first labor activists were Jewish. Jewish texts further affirm our commitment to worker’s rights. The Torah, Talmud and various other commentaries discuss ethical labor practices including minimum wage, just working conditions, and a safe workplace. Moreover, this commitment to justice resonates for our community, given our history of forced servitude and affliction. As Deuteronomy states: “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer,” which is a dictum we should take to heart (24:14-15).
We have a guide on ethical practices in employing domestic workers. We also have resources for Labor on the Bimah that relate to Labor Day and opportunities to discuss workers from the pulpit. You can also urge your Members of Congress to advocate for a higher minimum wage, which would help all workers. Take action today to encourage your Member of Congress to raise the minimum wage!