Friday, April 23, 2010

Judaism’s stand on wage theft and all oppression of workers

In a statement issued by the Chicago-based Interfaith Worker Justice, a New York rabbi, Michael Feinberg, condemned unethical employment practices that have become “epidemic in scope” – wage theft, including pay below the legal minimum wage, misclassifying workers as independent contractors so as to deny them benefits, failure to pay overtime, or failure to pay anything at all.

From his own experience as executive director of the New York Labor-Religion Coalition, Rabbi Feinberg found that the victims of wage theft in its various forms were garment workers, city park workers, janitors, greengrocery workers, cemetery workers, farm workers, doormen, delivery people, “to name a few.”

“These workers need and deserve all the support they can get from the religious community and from the law in pursuit of justice,” he wrote.

In support of his position, Rabbi Feinberg cited some of Judaism’s most important principles. Among them:

• The Dignity of all Creation -- K'vod Habriot
• The role of humanity to be responsible stewards to the Earth and all its resources, shared equitably
• The ultimate value and worth of every human being, each one created in the image of God -- B'tselem Elohim
• The dignity of labor/work as human partnership with God in the ongoing act of Creation
• The right of all workers to fair treatment, including a living wage, timely payment, and the right to form a union
• Concern for the most economically vulnerable in society -- the widow, the orphan and the stranger -- and the ethical imperative to meet their need
For Rabbi Feinberg’s full statement, click on

Interfaith Worker Justice, under Kim Bobo, has for years run effective national and local campaigns to stimulate action against wage thievery. She is the author of “Wage Theft in America: Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid-And What We Can Do About It “(2009).

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