Rabbi David Russo and JCUA Member Stacey Flint Testify on Behalf of Workers’ Rights

Last week, the Cook County board voted overwhelmingly to pass one of the nation’s toughest wage theft laws. JCUA leaders provided testimony in support of the legislation. These statements by Stacey Flint and Rabbi David Russo reinforce the importance of workers rights in Jewish values and in the Jewish community.

‘We Are All Responsible.’

Testimony by Rabbi David Russo, Anshe Emet Synagogue

Every week, Jews around the world read from the Torah. And in this coming week [Feb. 9-13], we will all read a particular verse from the Book of Exodus (22:21-22):

Rabbi David Russo

Rabbi David Russo

כָּל־אַלְמָנָה וְיָתוֹם לֹא תְעַנּוּן

You shall not afflict any widow, or orphaned child.

אִם־עַנֵּה תְעַנֶּה אֹתוֹ

If you afflict them in any way,

כִּי אִם־צָעֹק יִצְעַק אֵלַי

If they cry to me,

שָׁמֹעַ אֶשְׁמַע צַעֲקָתוֹ

I God will surely hear their cry.

Rabbinic tradition asserts that the Bible is identifying afflictions not only of a specific group of people, i.e. widows or orphans, but any teshushei koach, anyone who is weak, who is vulnerable (Rashi).

And Jewish tradition emphasizes that God will not only bring consequences upon the people inflicting the damage – but that if people are aware of the injustice, and they do nothing, then the punishment is upon the entire community (Ibn Ezra).

We all are responsible.

As a Cook County consumer, and more importantly as a Cook County community member, this legislation allows me to ensure that I and our entire community are following this biblical imperative of ensuring the rights of the vulnerable, rather than crushing them.

We are ensuring that we can all make purchasing decisions that meet our values.

We are ensuring that our tax credits are supporting businesses that support their workers, rather than take from them.

This ordinance ensures that businesses will pay the wages guaranteed to their workers.

God, thank you for this opportunity to celebrate this ordinance.

And may we the words of Exodus ring in our ears today as it did thousands of years ago to those Israelite slaves who escaped the bondage of Egypt – that we all are responsible to ensure that we look out for the stranger, that we look out for the vulnerable, that we support others in our community – rather than knock them down. Amen.

‘Wage theft not only steals from workers, but from all of Cook County.’

Testimony by JCUA Member Stacey Flint

Stacey Flint

Stacey Flint

Good morning Honorable Commissioners of Cook County. My name is Stacey Flint. I stand before you today as a representative of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and a homeowner from the 9th district of Cook County. I am here in support of the passage of the Anti-Wage Theft Ordinance.

Jewish values teach us: “Do not oppress or rob your neighbor; specifically, you are not to keep back the wages of a hired worker all night until morning.” In addition we are taught, “On his day you should give his wages, the sun should not set on it, because he is a poor man and his life depends on it…”

Why does a worker’s life depend on timely payment of wages you may ask? A worker represents a household. A household requires the basics to function: food, shelter, clothing, health, etc. Deprived of wages, a person unable to provide for oneself or one’s households with these basic needs is left desperate. Heaven forbid they may even be pushed to break divine or civil laws. Industries that do not pay workers are not only thieves themselves; they promote lawlessness.

Employers who do not pay workers cause an overload to Cook County’s fragile safety net as unpaid workers may increase the burden on the county’s public safety and social services. Between 2000 and 2011, Cook County’s poverty rate increased from 13.5 percent to 15.8 percent, leaving us with the highest poverty rate in the region. Currently, Cook County’s FY 2015 budget shows deficits in several social service line items. Therefore, wage theft not only steals from workers, but from all of Cook County.

As a tax paying citizen of Cook County, I want to us to support industries that are ethical in their treatment of workers, and thereby, worthy of tax breaks and county contracts. When Cook County passes the Anti-Wage Theft ordinance, it represents a stance for ethical business and financial prudence.


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