Although it might seem that the legislative session could end any day now, our social justice work in New York State will continue on. RJVNYS submitted testimony for the Wage Board Hearing on Minimum Wage Increase in the Fast Food Industry on Thursday, in support of raising the minimum wage to a true living wage indexed to inflation. You can read the testimony in full below:
On behalf of Reform Jewish Voice of New York State (RJV), which serves as the Reform Jewish Movement’s advocate for social justice in New York State, and works with over 100 Reform congregations and nearly 100,000 Reform Jews, we submit this testimony in support of an increased minimum wage for low-income workers in New York. While the Reform Movement supports a $15 per hour minimum wage, above all we believe in a living wage that keeps pace with inflation. As the cost of living varies from community to community and increases over time, no minimum wage worker should ever live in poverty.
The Reform Jewish Movement has long been a voice for social and economic justice. As early as 1965, the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) passed a resolution, “The Eradication and Amelioration of Poverty” which urged the federal government to adopt measures “which would insure every worker willing and able to work a wage which makes possible a decent standard of living.”
We believe all workers must be treated with dignity. The Torah instructs us to treat workers with justice. As it is written, “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow Israelite or a stranger in one of the communities of your land” (Deuteronomy 24:14). Jewish tradition recognizes the importance of wages to a worker’s sustenance. We are taught that “one who withholds an employee’s wages is as though he deprived him of his life” (Baba Metzia 112a) and “You shall not defraud your fellow. You shall not commit robbery. The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning” (Leviticus 19:13).
The fiscal year 2013-2014 state budget enacted a minimum wage increase with a phased implementation schedule, culminating with an increase to $9.00 per hour in December 2015. Reform Jewish Voice of New York State vigorously supported that much-needed increase.
Critics argue that increasing the minimum wage would result in reduced employment opportunities for low wage workers and there are competing studies: some affirming that view and others showing the opposite. What we know is that $9.00 per hour is insufficient for workers to support themselves and their families and that an increase in the minimum wage is overdue. Although increases to the minimum wage are imperative for working families across New York State, we also advocate strongly for a living wage – an amount significantly higher than the current amount. Though the Torah recognizes that we cannot necessarily eliminate all poverty, we are taught that we must work to alleviate its impact. Making sure the most vulnerable among us are provided for is a responsibility for society as well as for the individual. We thank you for the opportunity to make our views known and urge the Board to act affirmatively to increase the minimum wage.
Barbara Zaron and Joel Elliot
Co-Chairs, Reform Jewish Voice of New York State