Through my political action, I have the occasion to testify in front of the Washington State legislature several times over the course of a legislative session. Rarely, though, do those opportunities come so close in time. Much of what appears to be on the legislative horizon this year is about economic justice–namely, how to not forget those in need at a time of difficult budgeting and the need for new revenue and spending cuts. On the other hand, there are opportunities to make the case for other issues of economic justice. In the past I have lent my voice in the fight against payday lending. Today, I had the opportunity to speak out against wage theft, and support a bill that would provide remedy for those whose wages have been unfairly withheld. And as a rabbi, I can tell you that this practice is in clear violation of the Torah! Here is my testimony:
Chair and members of the committee,
My name is Seth Goldstein and I am a rabbi serving the Jewish community of Olympia. I am here representing the Faith Action Network, a statewide organization representing faith communities off all denominations dedicated to advancing faith based approaches to justice.
And I come here in strong support of HB 1518
As a faith community leader, I am reminded of the verse from Scripture, in the book of Deuteronomy: “You must pay a worker’s wages on the same day, before the sun sets, for he is needy and urgently depends on it; else he will cry to the Lord against you and you will incur guilt.”
I do not site this verse to imply that Washington civil law should be based on biblical precedent. I do site these verse to point out that there is a deep and abiding ethical concern enshrined in our sacred texts that is mean to support those who labor, to oppose the exploitation of workers, specifically through the of duly earned wages in a timely manner. The treatment of those who work for us is of paramount concern—it is a pillar of a moral society.
And we continue to fail on that regard. It should be a common expectation that you show up to do your job and you get paid for your time and effort. You have earned that money, it is yours. Sadly, workers suffer from various forms of “wage theft”—having wages withheld through a variety of means.
And these violations, while in and of themselves unfair, also unfairly target those who have been traditionally marginalized in our society: women, immigrants and minorities. And when the poor and vulnerable are trapped by these violations then it makes it that much harder for them to provide for their families and make the rent or a car payment for example, and are caught in a cycle of dependency.
We support HB 1518 because it provides means to break this cycle. It provides a means to address wealth inequality and create a more just society. It gives the tools people need to reclaim what is rightfully theirs: not only their lost wages, but their dignity as human beings who have the right not to be taken advantage of, looked down upon, used and abused.
Our support is not about punishing the business community, it is about doing right by our workers. Let us rectify a wrong so that all citizens of Washington are treated fairly and justly.
Video here: http://www.tvw.org/index.php?option=com_tvwplayer&eventID=2015011180#start=4478&stop=4660