Both in spirit and in practice, religious commandments in the Torah and Talmud relating to the employment of workers are imbued with respect for labor rights.[1]  Jewish religious laws pre-date current secular labor laws by thousands of years.

The American Jewish community has been supportive of worker and trade union rights for over a century.  During the years of mass-immigration from the early 1880s to the second decade of the 20th Century, when American Jewry was a predominantly working-class community, the majority toiled in difficult and often desperate conditions in the garment industry and a range of other trades.  The Jewish labor movement and the larger labor movement were essential to the success and advancement of American Jewry.

  In recent years , there have been significant efforts to eliminate or substantially narrow collective bargaining rights throughout the United States at local, state and national levels.  According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in 2011 there was an eight-fold increase in the number of states seeking to restrict or eliminate collective bargaining rights of public workers.  550 bills involving public sector unions and employees, including teachers, police and firefighters have been introduced.

The right to collective bargaining in the United States is the law of the land for the private sector, based on the 1935 National Labor Relations Act.   It protects the right of employees in the private sector to form and join unions and requires that employers bargain collectively with the union chosen by its employees.  Collective bargaining is considered a universal human right under Article 23 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. 

Public sector collective bargaining entered into American law in 1959, when Wisconsin became the first state to protect public employees’ collective bargaining rights.  Today, almost all states require or permit collective bargaining. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy issued an executive order to grant many federal government employees the right to unionize and collectively bargain with departments and agencies. American Catholic Bishops, in response to the recent attacks on the collective bargaining rights of public servants, have declared official support for the “principles of justice” that these rights represent.  “These are not just political conflicts or economic choices; they are moral choices with enormous human dimensions,” stated Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. 

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs believes that:

The community relations field should:

[1] Labor Rights in the Jewish Tradition, Michael Perry (Jewish Labor Committee 1993) http://www.jewishlaborcommittee.org/LaborRightsInTheJewishTradition.pdf

 

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