Tzedek Summit: A JCA Member on the Working Parents Act

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This post was written by JCA member Dick Gould and delivered at the Tzedek Summit for Economic Justice on Sunday, August 30th.

I’m Dick Gould — a member of the Adath Jeshurun Congregation.  I spent my working life as an advisor and confidant to corporate executives.  One afternoon I was working with a senior executive who was having problems with one of his key people.  We were tossing around various ways of dealing with the situation and then some of the ideas were a bit questionable. So I reminded him that we haven’t discussed the moral aspects of the actions he was considering.  He replied, quote: “I don’t believe we have to consider that question.  Morality takes care of itself.”  

Well it doesn’t.  Corporations, big or small, are structured to maximize profit.  There is great resistance to give employees anything that they don’t have to.  All too many believe, and I quote, that “employees are paid to be workers not human beings.”

That’s where we come in.  Morality does not take care of itself.  Our shared sense of morality dictates that we have compassion for people.  And that we stand with those in need.  Employees have little leverage against powerful executives who profoundly impact their lives and the well being of their families.  We should seek to join in with current efforts underway to promote the passage of laws — and the enforcement of those laws — so that workers can earn fair compensation.  

The Working Parents Campaign will focus on 5 different aspects of a worker’s livelihood. 

1. Institute A Living Wage
We should celebrate the recent increase in the minimum wage to $9 an hour.  But you would hardly feel like celebrating if that’s all you were earning.  Even at $9 an hour, a full-time, full-year worker earns less than $19,000 a year.  This is simply not enough for an individual, no less a family, to make ends meet.  What do you think it costs a family of four to maintain a modest standard of living in Minneapolis/ St. Paul?   According to data released just last week by The Economic Policy Institute - nearly $70,000 a year.  It is essential that we work with the organizations actively seeking to raise the minimum wage in Minneapolis.

2. Provide for Earned Sick and Safe Time
Hourly wages are not the only issue.  What if you’re too sick to go to work?  What if you’re amongst the 40% of Minnesota workers who do not have access to earned sick time?  This also applies to safe time — when an employee or family member needs to take time off from work due to a critical safety issue, such as domestic violence or sexual assault.

For many workers, the loss of even just one or two days of wages can mean difficulty paying the rent or medical bills.  We would join with campaigns to provide earned sick and safe time for every working Minnesotan. 

3. Support Paid Family Leave
Imagine giving birth and being torn between going back to work or staying at home to care for your newborn.  Women—and increasingly men as well—often find themselves caught between the competing pressures of paid work and family responsibilities.  This is especially true when serious illness strikes a family member.

We would seek to enable workers to earn paid family leave.  Specifically to provide up to 12 weeks of leave — 6 of which would be paid — for parents or caregivers in the case of a birth, the adoption of a child, or when needed to care for a family member with a serious or long term illness.

4. Require Fair Scheduling Practices
After working hard all day you have finally reached the end of your 8-hour shift. You can’t wait to get home to be with your two little girls who are waiting for you.  As you’re putting on your coat your boss tells you that you have to stay to work for another four hours. You have no time to make arrangements for your kids. And you know that there are plenty of people out there who’d love to take your job.  What do you do? 

Having to make that choice is morally wrong.  We should actively support legislation to require that workers get regular work schedules and enough notice to be able to meet their responsibilities at home.

5. Fight Against Wage Theft
That mother who was forced to work overtime without any advanced warning might not even get paid for those extra hours.  How is that possible?  It’s against the law.  But it happens.  In fact, 3 out of 4 employees who worked more than 40 hours a week were not paid the legally required overtime rate.  That is wage theft.

If the minimum wage is not enough to support a family, wage theft makes their situation all the more dire.  We need to see to it that the government hires additional investigators to fight against this rampant abuse of the law.  Keep in mind, this isn’t about new legislation - it’s about having the resources needed to enforce existing laws.

In closing, a common thread to these five issues is financial security.  But it’s more than money per se — there is the fundamental issue of human dignity.  As I said in the beginning, morality does not take care of itself.  When you consider the values at the heart of Jewish teachings — every human being deserves to be treated with respect.  And that we should reach beyond ourselves when others are struggling. 

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