For almost a month the workers of Skokie, Ill. based Golan’s Moving and Storage have been on strike. The nearly 80 employees of the locally owned moving company voted to form a union at the end of 2013 in response to numerous unfair labor practices and outright reports of illegal activities. For example, there are currently 10 complaints of wage theft against the company under active investigation at the Department of Labor. Workers would be told to work a 14 hour day but only get paid for 8 of those hours. Since organizing as a union the employees have been unsuccessful in multiple attempts to negotiate a contract with the owners. The owners have cancelled negotiation dates nearly 6 times. All of this behavior is clearly in violation of not only ethics but of Jewish law and Jewish values.
by Asaf Bar-Tura
Director of Programs, JCUA
In this week’s Torah portion (Niztavim-Vayelech), we meet Moses in his final days. He is giving last instructions to his people, as they proceed into the Promised Land without him.
But as I read this week’s parasha, it is a different speech of King that haunts me. It is the speech he gave at Mason Temple in Memphis on April 3, 1968 – the night before he was killed.
At the very conclusion of this later speech, King says –
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
In this week’s parasha, Moses stands by the Jordan River, and, like King, tells his people that they must continue into the promised land without him: “And Moses went, and he spoke the following words to all Israel. He said to them, ‘Today I am one hundred and twenty years old. I can no longer go or come, and the Lord said to me – You shall not cross this Jordan’ (Deuteronomy, 31: 1-2).”
Both leaders speak of standing at the cusp of achieving what they have worked so hard for, and empowering others to fulfill the dream. Perhaps this is where the road from the Jordan River to Memphis goes through the March on Washington. It is often mentioned that the March on Washington advocated for freedom. But it also advocated for jobs. It was a march for civil rights, but also for economic justice.
Not surprisingly, then, King took the fateful trip to Memphis in 1968 in order to support the city’s sanitation workers, mostly African American, who were fighting for their labor rights. He said to his Memphis audience:
The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we’ve got to keep attention on that. […] Now we’re going to march again, and we’ve got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be — and force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God’s children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That’s the issue.
We know that the dream of racial and economic justice is still a promise yet to be fulfilled. Last year I also wrote about King, as we commemorated 49 years to the March. I wrote then:
The midrash says that a person may walk through 49 gates of impurity, but once one crosses the 50th, one cannot be redeemed. It is said that while in slavery in Egypt, the Israelites were in such dire straits, that they had crossed “49 gates of impurity.” Hence, the midrash teaches, we count 49 days from Passover to Shavuot, when the Torah was given. These 49 days redeem us back from slavery to liberation – passing through 49 gates of sanctification.
I expressed the hope that we would not reach a 50th year without redeeming the dream. But still, there is much work to be done. How do we move forward?
I find inspiration, again, in this week’s Torah portion. Before sending his people into the promised land, Moses tells them that fulfilling the promise of becoming a just and righteous community is in their hands:
It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?” Rather,[this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it. (Deuteronomy, 30: 12-14).
Moses and King both teach us, in their parting words, that in our collective action, we can lead ourselves to a just society.
July 3, 2013
By Rabbi Ali Abrams
Director of Organizing
This week, UNITE HERE announced a tentative agreement between Hyatt workers and Hyatt Corporation that would increase workers’ wages and improve benefits. The agreement covers workers in four U.S. cities-including Chicago- through 2018.
For four long years, Hyatt workers in Chicago and across the nation have been organizing with UNITE-HERE, the union of hospitality workers in the U.S. and Canada, for better working conditions and dignity at their jobs. Hyatt had mistreated housekeepers and other hotel workers, replaced longtime employees with minimum wage temporary workers and imposed dangerous workloads on those who remained. In August 2010 JCUA Founder Rabbi Robert Marx and more than 250 other Jewish leaders nationwide signed a pledge to support the Hyatt workers. Several members of the Jewish community, including JCUA, have stood with the Hyatt workers over time. Our Or Tzedek teens have interned with UNITE-HERE and have met with workers to learn about working conditions and the power of organizing. Through delegations to Hyatt management, interfaith services, and rallies, we have helped to broadcast that treating workers unjustly is an affront to Jewish values.
On July 23, 2012 workers declared a global boycott as a way to put pressure on the Hyatt Corporation to change its ways. Through the courageous efforts of these workers- with support from the broader community- UNITE HERE and Hyatt were able to come to a tentative agreement yesterday. Once ratified, the agreement will provide back wages to workers beginning from 2009 and an increase in wages through 2018. (For more details the agreement, click here).
As multi-national corporations gain more power and the income gap widens, workers have to fight harder than ever for fair contracts, good working conditions, and the right to organize. The Hyatt boycott teaches us something very important: Boycotts are one of the most powerful tools workers have to influence employers. Workers rely on the support of consumers to have an impact. Like a strike or picket line, boycotts become necessary when employers refuse to respond to attempts at creating change in the workplace. As allies who value justice and the fair treatment of workers, it is our obligation to uphold a boycott in the same way we would respect a picket line.
Jewish tradition conveys a clear respect for work and workers and places great emphasis on employer-employee relationships that are grounded in the recognition of every person’s dignity and worth. At JCUA, we celebrate this important victory for worker justice and are proud to stand in solidarity with workers in our city.
by Lauren Goldstein
JCUA Intern, Advocacy and Community Organizing
On Wednesday, May 1, JCUA joined thousands of families, individuals, activists, advocates, and organizations to march for just and compassionate immigration reform.
It was a beautiful spring day (finally!) – perfect for coming together for social change. We arrived at Union Park at 2:30 to the sound of drums beating, people chanting, and flags waving. We then joined the march, which was just getting underway. We marched alongside allies from the Erie Neighborhood House, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (of which JCUA is a member), Unite Here, Rabbi Joshua Salter from the South West Organizing Project, Community Renewal Society, and many, many more.
The energy was high and the atmosphere was buzzing with excitement as the march converged with another march for immigration reform that started at a different location, so that we could all march together as one large group into the Loop to Federal Plaza.
As we weaved through the afternoon rush amidst businessmen and women, bicycles, taxis, and buses, the group continued to sing and shout chants such as “What do we want? Immigration Reform! When do we want it? NOW!” and we soon closed in on Federal Plaza. The rally continued at the plaza with the goal of sparking excitement and change for the future.
The need for comprehensive immigration reform, the necessity that we stop deportations, that we stop tearing families apart, is growing ever more important with each passing day. The time has long been here to change our current system so that we may be a more humane, compassionate people. On May Day, JCUA marched united with the many people in our city who work tirelessly for change, and we are honored to have had the opportunity to be a part of this vital change.
See footage from JCUA’s march on May Day:
For more on JCUA’s work for immigrant rights, visit:
POSTVILLE IMMIGRATION RAID – 5 YEARS LATER
On Friday, May 10, 2013 a gathering commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Postville, Iowa immigration raid will take place in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The purpose of the event is to remember the 389 persons who were arrested on May 12, 2008, to reconcile with those who contributed to the injustices, and to advocate for the reform of immigration policies. JCUA was very involved in the efforts five years ago and we continue to be committed to worker and immigrant justice.
The event will begin at noon with a remembrance ritual in front of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, 111 7th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids.
A “Walk for Justice” will follow at approximately 12:20 p.m. to Immaculate Conception Church, 857 3rd Ave. SE. Here an interfaith prayer for reconciliation and a call for reform of our immigration policies will take place around 1:00 p.m. The assembly is being planned by a wide coalition of those involved in the response to the raid as well as those affected. It will include immigrants who were part of the 2008 raid, church representatives who ministered to the immigrants and their families, lawyers who saw the injustice of the system, as well as others who are concerned about immigration reform.
The remembrance ritual is being held in front of the federal courthouse because of the court’s role in the raid and its significance to the ongoing national conversation about immigration. Postville was one of the largest raids in American history and it devastated families and ripped an entire community apart. We now must move forward to make sure Congress takes the necessary action to reform our immigration system—making sure we provide a path to citizenship, protect workers and end raids.
More information is at www.lirs/postville-anniversary.
If you are interested in going to Cedar Rapids with JCUA, please contact Rabbi Ali Abrams at email@example.com.
Reflections on Our Text Study on Workers’ Rights
Just before May Day, the traditional celebration of workers’ rights, we came together to explore what Jewish and Muslim traditions contribute to the current discussion on labor.
Sponsored by JCUA’s Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative, this text study featured Rabbi Victor Mirelman and Muslim chaplain Abbas Chinoy who facilitated the event on a rainy Sunday evening in the comfortable Dollop Café in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.
The need to contemplate labor issues has gained urgency around the Midwest. In Wisconsin, only a few months ago Gov. Scott Walker made it almost impossible for public employees to organize; and in Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is also changing the city’s relationship with its employees. It wasn’t even a month ago that Gov. Walker repealed the Equal Pay Enforcement Act that had offered legal avenues to fight wage discrimination based on race, age, disability, religion and sexual orientation.
The evening began with this question: How have worker rights (or lack thereof) influenced peoples’ lives?
While one participant had very positive experiences with her union, another expressed her disappointment with the union of which she had been a member; she said she had been neither well informed or well cared for.