At the annual meeting of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, Rick Jacobs, President of the Union of Reform Judaism, issued a call for the Jewish community to focus on social justice. “Taking responsibility for others lifts us out of the indulgence and narrowness of self, introducing us to a world of meaning and purpose.”

He spoke those words just days after the Oversight Committee of the Union of Reform Judaism announced it was keeping social justice conferences at non-union boycotted Hyatt hotels.

The Hyatt Corporation is subcontracting jobs and forcing workers into poverty. Housekeepers endure crushing workloads that hurt their bodies. Where non-union workers are organizing to improve their circumstances, Hyatt has refused to remain neutral. On July 23, 2012 workers called for a global boycott of Hyatt hotels. We have heard stories of Hyatt abuse from many workers and find them very compelling.We support the workers’ boycott. We have taken the following pledge:

We, members of the Reform Movement and signators of the boycott pledge against Hyatt, reaffirm our commitment to the principle of justice our Movement espouses and to the fair treatment of workers. We will not attend the Consultation on Conscience, a L’Taken seminar, or any event held at a boycotted Hyatt hotel. We will encourage members of our communities to join us in supporting workers’ rights by adding their names to this pledge, and we ask that Reform institutions reconsider their relationship to the Hyatt Corporation in light of our Movement’s historical commitment to the labor movement and the ideals it represents.

Reform clergy and lay members, as well as others in solidarity, please join us by signing the above pledge at http://Jusiceathyatt.org/reform.

Reducing severe income inequality, unemployment, and poverty in the United Statesis the chief social justice challenge of our time and of all times. If all afflictions in the world were assembled on one side of the scale and poverty on the other, poverty would outweigh them all. Exodus Rabbah, Mishpatim 31:14

The crucible of inequality is in the workplace, where pervasive union busting and subcontracting have empowered profitable corporations to lay off employees and increase the workloads of those that remain, while paying them poverty level wages. The Hyatt Corporation is a prime example of this trend. As of September 30, 2012, Hyatt had $988 million in cash and short term investments. In the past year Hyatt has made $124 million in profits. Yet Hyatt continues to deny workers their dignity. To give just one example, the General Council of the National Labor Relations Board has just charged the Hyatt Regency Baltimore with unjust firings, threats and surveillance of union supporters. “We held a rally in front of the hotel to speak out, and within less than two weeks, Hyatt fired me and two fellow leaders,” said Mike Jones, a dishwasher and union supporter fired by Hyatt. “I’m proud of the work I do, which is why I had to stand up. Hyatt has cut the people in my department from 32 down to 6 and refuses to hire the temps that work with us every day.”

We need to stand with Michael. Our Reform Movement, on paper, is supportive of the point of view that the way to fight poverty, the way to support the dignity of workers, is to use our Movement’s consumer power to support union labor. The Central Conference of American Rabbis responsum, “The Synagogue and Organized Labor” http://data.ccarnet.org/cgi-bin/respdisp.pl?file=4&year=5761, states:

We who have championed the cause of organized labor for so many decades can hardly exempt our own institutions from the ethical standards we would impose upon others. When our “constituent agencies” hire non-union labor in preference to union workers, we thereby help to depress the level of wages and deal a setback to the cause for which workers organize. We cannot in good conscience do this. If we believe that unionization aids the cause of workers by raising their standard of living and allowing them a greater say in their conditions of employment-and our resolutions clearly testify to this belief-then our support for unionized labor must begin at home. The synagogue bears an ethical responsibility to hire unionized workers when they are available.

It is a profound contradiction of its mission for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism to hold conferences in hotels where there is no union to protect the rights of workers. We believe that a conference on social justice held at a boycotted and non-union hotel is in the category of mitzvah haba’ah b’aveirah, a commandment fulfilled but the value of which is voided by fulfilling it through unjust means. The classic example of this rabbinic principle is in the case of the Biblical ritual of shaking a palm-branch (lulav) on the holiday of Sukkot. The rabbis of the ancient Mishnah (Sukka 3:1) rule that performing this ritual with a stolen palm branch invalidates the ritual. How much more in this case where the venue for the gathering contradicts the content.

We cannot participate in the Consultation on Conscience that is held in a place that does not treat its workers fairly. For us, this would be akin to the Talmud’s graphic example of “tovel v’sheretz beyado,”immersing oneself in the ritual, purifying bath while still holding on to an impure object.

We look forward to the day when, as a matter of fundamental principle, public events of the Reform Movement will be held only in venues with unionized labor and a fair contract. In the meantime, we hope that the Unionfor Reform Judaism will yet reverse its decision to hold its Consultation on Conscience and L’Taken Seminars at the Crystal City Hyatt. Absent such a reconsideration, we sadly call on our colleagues in the Reform Movement to join us and miss these events — and to let theReligiousActionCenter know why they are unable to attend this year.

Rabbi Laurence Edwards

Rabbi Bruce Elder

Rabbi Melanie Aron

Rabbi Jonathan Klein

Cantor Michael Davis

Rabbi Rachel Mikva

Rabbi Alison Abrams

 

 


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