Both the Torah and the Talmud tell us we need to feed the hungry and help those in need to become self sufficient. The Torah also repeatedly emphasizes the need to treat workers fairly. According to Deuteronomy 24:14-15 and Leviticus 19:13, “You shall not oppress a needy and destitute laborer … but you must pay him his wages on the same day, … for he is needy and urgently depends on it….”
The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards passed a teshuvah in 2008 on Work, Workers and the Jewish Owner. Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the author of this teshuvah, discusses the responsibility of a Jewish employer but one of her conclusions is relevant to this discussion. She states, “Jewish employers should strive to pay workers a ‘living wage’…When deciding among the options available, employers should not select a wage level that, while technically considered a living wage (according to a local ordinance, for example), is so low that employers know that workers will certainly need to take on additional jobs, and/or endanger their health by working an excessive number of hours.”
The federal minimum wage — $7.25 since July, 2009 — has failed to keep up with the cost of living. Had it kept up since 1968 when it was $1.60, in today’s dollars it would now be close to $11.00 an hour. The federal minimum wage law was enacted in 1938 to establish a floor, below which wages would not go, but for too many workers the floor is also the ceiling.
Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage earners are women. A single woman working full time at $7.25 per hour might manage to keep herself at or slightly above the poverty line, depending on where she lives, but she would fall below it if she had any dependent children. Many households with one or more full time workers are eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits because wages are too low.
A proposed increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would raise the wages of about 30 million workers. Their pay increase would provide needed economic stimulus, increase gross domestic product and create new jobs.
The situation in Canada is similar. Labor and community groups have worked hard to keep minimum wage issues in the news as the country continues to debate whether raising the unemployment rate would help alleviate poverty or cause additional job loss.
WHEREAS, a wage earner working full time should be able to provide a minimum level of support for him/herself and his/her family;
WHEREAS, the failure to require a minimum wage which keeps workers out of poverty subsidizes low wage employers at the expense of society; and
WHEREAS, government recommended measures aimed at making future increases to the minimum wage more predictable and removing decisions regarding future increases from the political process;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that Women’s League for Conservative Judaism support and advocate for increasing the US Federal minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour over the next three years, and thereafter indexing it with an appropriate Bureau of Labor Statistics’ cost of living index, increasing the minimum wage for tipped workers by $0.90 per year until it reaches 70% of the non-tipped wage, and then indexing it so that it remains at 70%; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Women’s League for Conservative Judaism advocate maintaining U.S. programs such as SNAP and affordable housing, the earned income tax credit and Medicaid; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Canadian members of Women’s League advocate for other provinces to follow the recommendation given to the Ontario government to remove the decision regarding increases in the minimum wage from the political process; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Women’s League for Conservative Judaism and its constituent sisterhoods educate about the fact that the minimum wage is too low to keep workers and their families out of poverty.