NE JLC Advisory Board Meeting Report and Photos: June 13, 2013

NE JLC Advisory Board Meeting Report and Photos: June 13, 2013

JLC Advisory Board Meeting Report: June 13, 2013

We were thrilled with our first Advisory Board meeting on June 13th at the New England Regional Carpenters Hall. There were many powerful people in the room. The approximately 40 people who attended were thoughtful, intelligent, experienced, savvy leaders who have worked in the labor movement or in the Jewish community or both. They included elected officials, rabbis, union leaders, and Jewish community activists.

At the meeting, Brian Lang, President of UNITE HERE Local 26, and Rabbi David Jaffe of Gann Academy spoke about their relationship with the New England Jewish Labor Committee and how their organizations had benefited from that relationship. Rabbi Barbara Penzner, Chair of the New England Jewish Labor Committee’s (NE JLC) Rabbinic Advisory Council, spoke about all the significant work rabbis have done to help improve working conditions for thousands of workers in the Greater Boston region.

People were enthusiastic to think about how we could better achieve our mission: to engage the Jewish community in issues affecting workers.  In other words, how do we help the Jewish community understand that it is in everyone’s self-interest to have a society where workers are treated with respect and are paid decently? How do we mobilize the Jewish community on behalf of workers? How do we use that mobilized energy to reach a broader community?

We broke into four groups to discuss these questions. These groups focused outreach to the following groups:

  • Jewish institutions
  • Elected officials
  • Cultural and non-affiliated Jews
  • The broader community

Here are the summaries of reports from the groups:

Jewish institutions

One person posed this question, “What are the real points of connection in the Jewish community to labor?”  For example, GBIO’s nursing home campaign was something everyone in the Jewish community could relate to. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has also inspired people because they built a coalition between the most marginalized people in our society and consumers.  We can relate as consumers.

People in the Jewish community do resonate with workplace justice, but it’s a matter of helping people connect to labor issues. For example, in New York, Jews For Economic and Racial Justice (JFREJ) led the Shalom Bayit (peace in the home) campaign around a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. The Jewish community was central in getting that bill passed. The New England JLC is now working on a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in Boston. This issue connects the political with the personal. If someone is working for you in your own home, that is personal and people can relate to it.

We need to acknowledge that labor issues are challenging in the Jewish community. We need incremental rather than global growth. Discrete issues, such as the Hyatt 100, or Ethical Contractor policies will help.

The question was asked, “How do we make Jews aware of the realities of workers’ lives?”

Here are some ideas of things we can host that will address that question:


  • Education for rabbis on labor justice. For example, a group of rabbis can meet with workers and see their working conditions, similar to a Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) trip except here in Boston.
  • Education in Jewish schools to get students to come together for an action, like Workman’s Circle does with its students.
  • Rabbi Margie Klein edited a curriculum on social justice by Rabbi Jill Jacobs into two-week long units for use in Hebrew schools.  Jewish schools were eager for such a curriculum.
  • Look at a broad array of Jewish organizations such as Hillel as places to engage.
  • We need a long-term strategy. We should aim for deep transformation, like consciousness-raising, similar to the CIW model. In CIW people meet in groups and talk about their work situations or how they can make a difference. It is a model which takes a long time but builds real commitment.
  • Using the term “economic justice” and not “union” will create a better reception.  It is important to approach others in the right way so that they will respond.

Cultural and non-affiliated Jews

This group thought that the best way to appeal to unaffiliated Jews—and Jews with only modest synagogue connections—is to focus on:

1) Consciousness-raising about the issues affecting working people.

2) Reminders of the underlying Jewish values that should be informing our stances on these issues.

They also noted that the Jewish community—even the unaffiliated sectors—are not monolithic, and that different groups may require different methods and messages.

The challenge is further complicated by the fact that the community may becoming more conservative economically and politically, and an appeal to labor union history and solidarity is not as likely to be effective.

The group felt that the college-age population represents a potential fertile market.

Elected officials

There was a general discussion about how important it is for the NE JLC to have its members work with legislators to put pressure on businesses to do the right thing. We can use public officials to approach business leaders. We can use a business’ desire to do business in a community as leverage to get them to comply with certain standards of behavior—there are costs to lack of high standards in the treatment of workers.

The NE JLC should build relationships with elected officials when there isn’t a crisis, so that those relationships are in place for when a crisis occurs.

The NE JLC could clearly express the historic connection between Judaism and support for the labor community.

We need to have a better focus on specific issues and not spread ourselves too thin.

Using the word “person” rather than worker sometimes helps when communicating to people about worker issues.

The broader community

This group recommended that the NE JLC could reach the larger community by hosting forums on issues having to do with workers. We could be the conscience of the Jewish community. The forums would be a way to get our name out there in the Jewish community.

It would also be helpful to focus on a few issues and campaigns in depth rather than focus on many issues.

Working with other community groups would help us reach groups of people beyond the Jewish community.

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