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From Birth ‘til Work: Labor Rights

From Birth ‘til Work: Labor Rights

We read about labor in this week’s parsha in more than one way. In the short span of Vayetze, a total of twelve children come into the world. Not to mention the fourteen years of labor Jacob sacrifices in order to earn his wives’ hands in marriage. While these biblical stories seem like fairytales to me—who really gives away her maidservant nowadays to have a son in place of herself and who, oops, marries the wrong cousin by mistake? But at second glance, these stories might have more relevance than I first thought.

Last week, along with some sweeping marriage equality ballot measures being passed and a scary one erasing the separation of church and state being defeated, a few quieter ballot measures were approved by popular vote.

-  Albuquerque, New Mexico: Voters increased the minimum wage in the city from $7.50 to $8.50 an hour, along with raising the minimum wage for tipped workers and indexing those numbers to keep up with the cost of inflation in the future. This increase is expected not only to bolster workers’ paychecks, but also to foster $18 million in consumer spending and create 160 new jobs. Looks like a win for the still-flailing economy. Raising the minimum wage is more important than ever, as markets are following a 30-year trend shift towards low-wage jobs. After the recession, when most of the jobs that were lost were middle-wage, nearly 60% of positions created have been low-wage.

-  Long Beach, California: Voters here not only raised the minimum wage by three dollars to a new $13 living wage, but also included a guaranteed five paid sick days per year for hotel employees. A lack of paid sick days forces workers—especially tipped workers, like restaurant servers—to come to work while ill in order to earn enough to make ends meet. A lack of paid sick days forces parents and caregivers to make an impossible choice between keeping their job and taking care of their child who was sent home sick from school. Long Beach last week took an important step forward in implementing policies that allow employees to balance their obligations and their health.

These are long-term battles. At the RAC, with your help, we constantly fight to raise the federal minimum wage to an amount it is actually possible to live on. Through our minimum wage efforts, we fight to support those with jobs. We also fight to create more jobs, and also to help support those who are still struggling to find employment. The National Employment Law Project highlights the importance of unemployment insurance:

“The federal unemployment insurance program for job seekers out of work six months or longer is set to expire by the end of the year. If Congress fails to renew it, unemployment insurance will be cut off for more than two million long-term unemployed Americans between Christmas and New Year’s. Almost a million more will lose jobless aid in the first three months of 2013, so that by April, some three million Americans will be without the crucial bridge to a job that unemployment insurance provides.

An abrupt expiration of the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program comes as long-term unemployment remains near record levels. It would leave the unemployed with no further jobless aid beyond the 26 weeks provided by most states, even though the average unemployed worker is out of work for 40 weeks, and there are more than three unemployed workers for every one job opening.”

As we look back at the victories in the issue of labor rights this year and forward to the challenges still to come, I encourage you to bring some modern-day thinking into this week’s parsha. Instead of writing off Laban’s trickery as a gimmick that we now use to justify wedding veils, imagine yourself as a laborer whose wages were withheld, whose rights were trampled. Think about what you can do to correct those modern day Labans and support the Jacobs among us.

Image courtesy of Center for American Progress.

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