Resolution Adopted by the CCAR

Living Wage Campaigns

Resolution adopted by the Board of Trustees of the
Central Conference of American Rabbis, May 1999

Background

The Torah instructs us to treat workers with justice, as it is written: "You shall not oppress a hired laborer that is poor and needy, whether he be of your people or of the strangers that are in the land within your gates" (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). Based on these and other Jewish teachings, the CCAR has long advocated measures which would assure that every worker willing and able to work receives a wage which makes possible a decent standard of living.

Over the last several decades, wages for low- income workers have stagnated. Since 1968, the stock market, adjusted for inflation, has risen over 150% while the purchasing power of the minimum wage has fallen 30%. The average minimum wage worker is responsible for 54% of his or her family's weekly earnings. These workers are not paid enough money to support themselves and their families.

In recent years, some cities and counties have enacted living wage ordinances. These laws, generally the result of local grassroots campaigns, require that, to qualify for government contracts, service providers must pay their employees living wages, often defined as no less than the poverty line for a family of four. The reasoning behind these ordinances is that the government should set a community standard for wages, that people working for the government, directly or indirectly, should not be paid sub-poverty wages, and that while contracting out to companies that pay low wages may appear to lower government costs, it forces more people to be dependent on welfare and social services at increased government costs for those programs. In addition, only employing those who will work for sub-standard wages decreases the quality and motivation of the workforce. Living wage campaigns provide a unique opportunity for people to work to raise wages in their own communities.

THEREFORE, the Central Conference of American Rabbis resolves to:

  1. Support living wage ordinances and bills to bring wages to the poverty line;

  2. Encourage rabbis across North America to become involved in living wage campaigns in their local communities; and

  3. Encourage rabbis, their congregations, and all arms of the Reform Movement, to examine their employment practices to insure they reflect the policies set forth in this resolution.