JLC Advisory Board Meeting Report: June 24, 2014

Attendees: Representative Ruth Balser, Representative Marjorie Decker, Sheila Decter, Mark Erlich, Mike Felsen, Abby Flam, Joanne Goldstein, Jim Green, Matt Hills, Phil Katz, Rabbi Allan Lehmann, Rabbi David Lerner, Aliza Levine, Bob Ross, Jerry Rubin, Rich Rogers, Dahlia Rudavsky, Enid Shapiro, Eugene Sheppard, Neil Silverston, Senator Dan Wolf, Susan Webber, and Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu.

JLC Board members in attendance: Stephanie Ainbinder, Marya Axner, Dick Bauer, Dave Borrus, Maydad Cohen, Nicole Decter, Monica Halas, Corey Hope Leaffer, Rabbi Barbara Penzner, Jacob Schlitt, and Don Siegel. Also Volunteer Consultant to the Board Martin Abramowitz.

Additionally Darlene Lombos of Community Labor United attended as a guest speaker.

We were thrilled with our second annual Advisory Board meeting which took place June 24th at the New England Carpenters Union Hall. As was true of last year’s event there were many bright and powerful people in the room. The approximately 40 people who attended were thoughtful, experienced, savvy leaders who work in the labor movement, are elected officials, or are Jewish community activists.

Rabbi Barbara Penzner, Co-Chair of the New England Jewish Labor Committee (NE JLC), shared with us the teaching that we are not required to complete the task, but we need to start the work. She thanked the Advisory Board for the thinking, sharing and support that help our organization set priorities and build working alliances with labor, government and academia.

Rabbi Penzner also spoke about our accomplishments this year, highlighting passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, winning union representation for the workers of Le Meridien Hotel in Cambridge, and reaching a national agreement between UNITE HERE and Hyatt Hotels. She noted that, while this improved working conditions for Hyatt workers across the country, it did not address the situation of the workers of the Boston Hyatt Hotels, so the boycott continues here in Boston (see attached, “NE JLC Report of Activities July 2013-June 2014” for a full report of NE JLC accomplishments)

Darlene Lombos of Community Labor United and Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu spoke about the problem of wage theft and the underground economy as well as plans to respond to these serious structural issues. Councilor Wu will be introducing an ordinance addressing wage theft to the Boston City Council this year.

This presentation was the start of a larger conversation in which we asked people to think about and discuss areas which the NE JLC should focus on in the next year.

We divided into groups and addressed these questions:

  • In addressing wealth and income inequality, what issues should the NE JLC focus on in the coming year?
  • How can we best support workers?

Following is a summary of what people said in small groups:

  • Income inequality is a topic that people are currently interested in. People in our community need more education about income inequality and the forces that continue to cause inequality to grow. For example, people need to learn about wage theft and the underground economy, as these fuel the economic divide. Educating the Jewish community about these issues is a role the NE JLC can play. People need to understand how these issues affect their local communities. People in the suburbs may be affected differently and that needs to be taken into account in our outreach.
  • We can appeal to the conscience of Jewish employers and their Jewish values. For example, we could meet with a group of Jewish developers.
  • We should have a discussion about the impact of poverty:

o       Whose responsibility is poverty?

o       What is the impact of poverty and corresponding low wages?

  • While we celebrate the passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (DWBR), we need to continue supporting domestic workers by helping to implement the bill. We can organize the Jewish community in the Boston area around implementation, as the Jewish community has done in New York.
  • We should continue supporting hotel workers and other private sector workers. Increasing union density is key to increasing the effectiveness of unions.
  • The adjunct professors campaign is a good issue for outreach to the Jewish community. There is a Jewish presence among adjuncts, and Jewish families with children in college will resonate with this campaign.
  • People who try to promote social justice work in synagogues are often up against resistance to any action that might be “political.” Those people need support. The NE JLC community could help provide that support. It could help bring synagogues together on these worker issues. The NE JLC can play a role in Tzedek Reflections, which is a newly formed group of people from different synagogues, (but not representing different synagogues), who are organizing around a variety of social justice issues.
  • With two Jewish candidates in the Governor’s race, we could host a candidates’ forum.
  • We need to help people understand that worker issues are part of our core Jewish values. For example, to pay a living wage is a Jewish value.
  • We should stay connected to the “Raise-Up” coalition and partner with synagogues on its goals.

All of these issues will be brought to the next meeting of the NEJLC Board as we begin to set priorities for the coming year.

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