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Passage of Anti-Labor Legislation in Wisconsin Profound Setback to Workers' Rights

Pelavin: "As labor battles unfold in other states, the Reform Jewish Movement will continue to defend the right to collective bargaining."

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

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 10, 2011 -- In response to the passage of anti-labor legislation in Wisconsin, Mark Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

For weeks, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has insisted that his true intention in offering a so-called "budget repair bill," that contained deeply anti-labor provisions, was to restore the fiscal health of the state. On Wednesday night, the bill's supporters abruptly and utterly exposed the hollowness of that claim.

The bill that the state legislature ultimately passed did not decrease the deficit by one cent. It couldn't. With a quorum necessary under legislative rules to pass fiscal items, and with 14 Senators absent from the chamber in protest, the bill's supporters stripped the legislation of every item that actually affected the budget while leaving in place their true and core objective -- the elimination of state employees' collective bargaining rights. Though the workers had already acceded to contributing a greater portion of their wages to benefits and pensions, state legislators successfully pressed forward in removing their ability to recover their previous level of compensation once economic conditions improve and state coffers are replenished.

Clearly, passage of this legislation is a profound setback to workers' rights in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, Wisconsin is far from the only state in which workers' rights are under assault. With the legislative standoff in Wisconsin over, focus now turns to Ohio, which is considering similar legislation, and Indiana, which is considering a far more extreme "right-to-work" law, which would make it impossible for many unions, both public and private, to operate in the state. Like Wisconsin, the laws being debated in these states have little to do with the budget and everything to do with trampling on workers' rights.

Jewish tradition is emphatic about workers' right to dignity. Deuteronomy teaches, "You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer...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..." (24:14-15). Unions are the guarantors of modern labor rights. For this reason, the Union of Reform Judaism in its 2005 resolution, "Workers' Rights in the United States," recognizes, "the right to organize is not only an economic issue; it is also a human rights issue."

In recognition of their importance in defending working families, a rabbi from every Reform synagogue in Wisconsin recently joined together with colleagues from other denominations to oppose the legislation that ultimately became law. As labor battles unfold in other states, the Reform Jewish Movement will continue to defend the right to collective bargaining.

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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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