Reflections on Labor Sabbath

There is a hidden backbone to our society, a foundation we rely on but do not see. Every day we are supported by this structure, but we fail to recognize and support it in return in the ways we ought to. Seeing and appreciating that help is what this weekend is about. 

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Sponsored by the statewide campaign Raising Wages NC (a campaign with the goal of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour in North Carolina by 2022), Labor Sabbath is an annual interfaith movement on Labor Day weekend to honor and acknowledge workers, specifically low-wage workers, in our community. Low-income employees complete many essential tasks but we hardly notice them, much less pay them the salaries they’re due. What would you do without the wait staff who serves you your food or the janitor who cleans your office building after you’ve gone home for the night? What about the checker at the grocery store or even the teachers in preschool programs and the home health aides who care for friends and family? Once you think about all the low-income jobs in our communities, it is hard to ignore how important they are to the fabric of our lives and how little we acknowledge or support the workers who fill them.

Why is it, that many of these workers have two or three jobs to support themselves because the wages they earn aren’t enough for basic necessities? What does it say about us as Jews and as Americans that as the richest nation in the world we allow so many people to be one paycheck away from poverty? The Torah commands us in Deuteronomy 24:14-15, Do not oppress the hired laborer who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your people or one of the sojourners in your land within your gates. Give him his wages in the daytime, and do not let the sun set on them, for he is poor, and his life depends on them. It is our obligation to encourage the recognition and improved pay for low-income workers wherever we live. This is not simply an economic or class issue, it’s a humanitarian issue.

 - Emma Cohn