Seven synagogues in the D.C. area observed Labor Day weekend by discussing the merits of raising Maryland’s minimum wage.
Jews United for Justice, a Washington D.C.-based organization involved in social justice, provided participating synagogues with a 26-page packet for Labor on the Bimah that included ideas for sermons and verses from the Bible pertaining to the rights of workers.
Shirat HaNefesh in Chevy Chase, Adat Shalom in Bethesda, Temple Sinai in D.C., Tifereth Israel in D.C., Kol Shalom in Rockville, Beth Ami in Rockville and Temple Emanuel in Kensington participated. Those synagogues were asked to be involved because their members are concentrated in Maryland political districts where the legislators sit on the subcommittees dealing with the proposed increase in the state’s minimum wage, explained Katie Ashmore, a community organizer with JUFJ.
The state’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage is the equivalent of about $15,000 a year as a full-time salary. Maryland currently is considering raising that hourly fee to $10.10 over a three-year period.
Rabbi Gerry Serotta of Shirat HaNefesh said his sermon intertwined jobs, justice and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. His synagogue’s Tikkun Olam Committee will be working on the issue throughout the year, he said.
“Because the minimum wage is currently so low, Maryland’s low-wage workers are often unable to provide adequate food, shelter, clothing and medical care for themselves and their families, and often work more than one job just to make ends meet,” it is stated in the packet. “The minimum wage we set as a community is a reflection of the base level value for human work. Out of respect for the aspect of God in every person, we must work toward raising the minimum wage so all working people can make ends meet with dignity.”
There are numerous reasons to increase the minimum wage, according to JUFJ. Because some Jews receiving the minimum wage must work two or three jobs to make ends meet, they may find themselves having to choose between honoring the Sabbath or feeding their family. That is one reason.
Another is that “our tradition teaches that workers should not be oppressed, going as far to say that a poor worker should be treated like a member of our own households.”
JUFJ points to Deuteronomy 24:14-15, which states that “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute worker, whether your’e kin or a stranger in one of the communities in the land.”
Some argue that if companies are forced to raise their wages, they may end up employing fewer people. The District of Columbia currently is considering raising its minimum wage at the risk of losing a proposed Walmart store.
“I think it’s important to look at the issue a little differently,” said Ashmore. “We want good jobs in D.C.,” not jobs that create poverty, she said.
JUFJ’s packet cites statistics from several sources showing how raising the minimum wage injects more money into Maryland’s economy and creates jobs.
Nineteen states and D.C. have minimum wages higher than Maryland’s, according to JUFJ.
Nearly 50 congregations throughout the state observed Labor on the Bimah. To read an essay by JUFJ leader Rachel Metz on this subject, go to washingtonjewishweek.com and click on ‘Opinions.’