Why does the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York support the Paid Sick Day Bill in New York City? It’s simple. We support the bill because we are women.
On Monday, February 25th, 15 women elected officials gathered at City Hall to demand New York City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn to allow a vote on a bill that would require New York City employers with more than five employees to provide at least five paid sick days a year to their employees. The lead sponsor of the bill, New York City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, voiced the sentiment of so many women supporters of the bill when she shouted at the demonstration: “We are here because we’re women, women who are active in the workforce.”
Included among the 15 women elected officials was Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan), who stated, “The facts are enough to make you sick: America is the only industrialized nation in the world that fails to guarantee paid sick leave.”
Of the one million workers in New York City who are not even provided with one paid sick day, more than half of them are women with children. This is due to the fact that women are over-represented in low-wage jobs—jobs where employers are less likely to offer their employees paid sick days, and where the women are less likely to voice any protest about it. Women are also overwhelmingly more likely to act as the primary caregiver for their families, responsible for doctor’s appointments and follow-up care. According to Time to Care NY, 49% of working mothers report that they must stay home from work when a child is sick, but when they do so, half of them are not paid for every day they miss work.
Framing paid sick days as a “women’s issue”, supporters of the bill hoped that Quinn would bring the bill to a vote, but in spite of its strong support from these 15 elected officials, as well as so many women in the work place, Quinn still refuses to allow the bill to come to a vote. Recognizing that the goal of the bill is laudable, Quinn, nevertheless, feels that the economic environment cannot justify such legislation.
What does this have to do with Judaism?
Since the beginning of time, social justice has been a standing priority for Jewish people of all backgrounds, and one of the main principals of Jewish social justice has always been worker’s rights. Paid sick leave has become a critical component of workers’ rights, and as Jewish people, and Jewish women in particular, we understand the need to educate the public on this issue and take action.
At the heart of Jewish tradition and religion lies the importance of honest, hard work and maintaining healthy families. The Torah instructs that “you must pay out the wages due on the same day, before the sun sets, for the worker is in need and urgently depends on it,” (Deuteronomy 24:14-15). JWFNY grantee Uri L’Tzedick interprets this as the Torah’s reminder of the extent to which workers who earn a low wage depend on their daily wages for their very existence, and that to deny them their wages is unjust. The Torah also instructs us to take care of our health, reminding us that “you shall indeed guard your souls, because our bodies and souls belong to God,” (Deuteronomy 4:15).
Rabbi Jill Jacobs of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America explains in a My Jewish Learning article how the Talmud connects these teachings of the Torah to show how paying wages to those who depend on them goes hand in hand with the importance of guarding our bodies and souls. According to the Talmud, “A hired laborer must not starve himself or undergo privations, because he diminishes his value as a workman to his employer,” (Talmud, Demai VI 4, 26B). Employers and employees have a common interest in workers’ health and a mutual obligation to ensure the strength of the labor force.
When workers are treated fairly and with dignity, their families and communities are more likely to thrive as well. A mother should not be made to choose between her children’s health and her job. These are principals that our ancestors taught and lived, to create a fair employment system, and we should continue to uphold these core concepts in today’s evolving world.
As women and Jews, we strongly encourage Speaker Christine Quinn to allow the paid sick days bill to come to a vote. We also applaud the great work of our grantees who have organized the Jewish community around this issue. This past fall, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) sent a letter to Speaker Quinn in support of the New York City Paid Sick Time Act that was signed by more than 40 prominent Conservative, Orthodox, Reform, Reconstructionist, and Renewal New York rabbis. In addition, JWFNY grantee Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community (AWP) has been advocating throughout the year to improve parental leave and work flexibility policies within their Better Work, Better Life Campaign.
At JWFNY we are committed to continue organizing the Jewish community around this issue through our grantmaking and advocacy efforts in order to bring the paid sick day bill to a vote.
By, Lauren Wachtler, JWFNY Advocacy Committee Chair &
Stephanie Harz, Project Coordinator