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.
The classic code of Jewish law, the Shulhan Arukh, rules that workers may establish rules and principles to govern their work and the employers must respect those guidelines. This is based on the Talmudic discussion of the right of workers to form trade guilds in Tractate Bava Batra. Furthermore, many of the most distinguished Jewish legal authorities of the modern era have explicitly argued that there is a fundamental right of workers to form a union and for that union to be respected by their employers (see, for example, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in Igrot Moshe, Hoshen Mishpat 1:59; Igrot Moshe, Hoshen Mishpat 1:58; Rabbi Eliezer Waldenburg, Tzitz Eliezer 2:23; Rabbi Ben-Tzion Meir Uziel, Mishpatei Uzziel 42:6 and Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, Mishnato shel HaRav Kook, pg. 164).
If there can be a most troubling aspect to this situation it is the multiple allegations of wage theft. The Bible is strikingly clear in its command to not defraud workers and to pay them on time (Leviticus 19:13). People who are attempting the best they can to live out their lives in dignity ought to be respected by their employers and not abused and defrauded. For all of these reasons, I joined Arise Chicago this week in standing in solidarity with the workers of Golan’s Moving and Storage at the Skokie City Council. We testified to the abuse the workers have suffered and their inability to convince their employers to sit down and negotiate a contract in good faith. We also raised the important issue of wage theft and I was gratified when Mayor Van Dusen publically stated that they would bring it up in a future city council meeting. The City of Chicago serves as a model for suburban cities and villages as a little more than a year ago Chicago passed a wage theft ordinance that is simple in its purpose: it revokes the business licenses of companies that are found to be committing this serious crime.
We will be discussing this important campaign and other ways you can take action at our upcoming Sept. 3rd and Sept. 4th member meetings. You can make a difference in Chicago either through legislative organizing or grassroots organizing. Join us to work on campaigns such as the labor rights struggle for the workers of Golan’s Moving. For more info and RSVP, click here.