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Wisconsin Rabbis Defend Workers' Rights with Faith

Wisconsin Rabbis: "In keeping with the values of Wisconsin's Jewish community, and in the spirit of our state's motto -- forward -- we urge you to preserve the right of state employees to collectively bargain."

Contact: Eric Harris or Jonathan Backer
202.387.2800 | news@rac.org

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 1, 2011 -- A letter coordinated by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and signed by 16 Wisconsin Rabbis from across the denominational spectrum, including representatives of every Reform congregation in the state, was sent today to Wisconsin Senate leaders, opposing provisions of Governor Scott Walker's proposed Budget Repair Bill that would eliminate collective bargaining for state employees.

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear State Senator,

As leaders of Wisconsin's Jewish community, we urge you to oppose the proposal by Governor Scott Walker to strip public employees of their right to collectively bargain. (As you know, this proposal is contained in Special Senate Bill 11, colloquially known as the Budget Repair Bill.)

Our faith has a strong tradition of supporting the right to employment with dignity. Torah commands, "You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow Israelite or a stranger in one of the communities of your land. You must pay out the wages due on the same day, before the sun sets, for the worker is needy and urgently depends on it..." (Deuteronomy 24:14-15). Building upon this tradition, Jewish immigrants were instrumental in the creation of some of the earliest labor unions in America, including the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. In 1935, Jewish activists supported the National Labor Relations Act, which codified the most basic labor rights, including the right to collectively bargain.

Collective bargaining is a fundamental human right. As noted in the Union for Reform Judaism's 2005 resolution on workers' rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that "[e]veryone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of their interests," and collective bargaining is the primary vehicle through which unions secure those interests. It allows individuals to have democratic influence over the place where they spend the majority of their waking hours -- the workplace. No one should be forced to work in an environment in which they do not have a voice in determining the rules and conditions under which they labor. Moreover, unions have been critical in raising the bar for working conditions for all Americans, making a living wage an attainable goal for millions of workers.

Although we recognize the fiscal challenges before our state, we do not believe they are so urgent or so ominous as to justify the steps which Governor Walker is proposing. In fact, the state's non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau projects a $121.4 million surplus for the 2009-2011 biennium.

Irrespective of the severity of the state's fiscal situation, this effort to decimate workers' rights does little to address the problem. Public workers have already indicated their willingness to contribute a greater portion of their salaries to benefits and pensions. Elimination of collective bargaining rights will only inhibit the ability of workers to recover their previous level of compensation once economic conditions improve and state coffers are replenished. Furthermore, according to the Economic Policy Institute, public employees in Wisconsin with college degrees, on average, earn $20,000 less in wages and benefits than their private counterparts. Further erosion of wages and benefits would only widen the gap between private and public employees in the state.

In keeping with the values of Wisconsin's Jewish community, and in the spirit of our state's motto -- forward -- we urge you to preserve the right of state employees to collectively bargain. If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact any of us at our places of work or Jonathan Backer, Legislative Assistant for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism at (202) 387-2800 or by email at jbacker@rac.org.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Steve Adams
Congregation Emanu-El
Waukesha, Wisconsin

Rabbi Renee Bauer
Director, Interfaith Coalition for
Worker Justice of South Central WI
Madison, Wisconsin

Rabbi Marc E. Berkson
Congregation Emanu-El
B'ne Jeshurun
River Hills, Wisconsin

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch
Temple Beth El
Madison, Wisconsin

Rabbi David Cohen
Congregation Sinai
Fox Point, Wisconsin

Rabbi Dan Danson
Mt. Sinai Congregation
Wausau, Wisconsin

Rabbi Dena Feingold
Beth Hillel Temple
Kenosha, Wisconsin

Rabbi Yosi Gordon
Temple Sholom
Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Rabbi Jacob Herber
Congregation Beth Israel

Rabbi Jacob Herber
Congregation Beth Israel
Glendale, Wisconsin

Rabbi Bonnie Margulis
Chair, Wisconsin Religious
Coalition for Reproductive Choice

Rabbi Simcha Prombaum
La Crosse, Wisconsin

Rabbi Michael M. Remson
Kenosha, Wisconsin

Rabbi Ronald M. Shapiro
Congregation Shalom
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Rabbi Andrea Steinberger
UW-Madison Hillel
Madison, Wisconsin

Rabbi Shlomo Wing
Congregation B'nai Abraham
Beloit, Wisconsin

Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman
Congregation Shaarei Shamayim
Madison, Wisconsin

* Congregation and organizational names are for information only.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis. Visit www.rac.org for more.



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