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Labor Day and Rosh Hashana Greetings!

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Together, we can forge a new year - good fortune, happiness, a livelihood and good health for all!

Once again, we are sending our best wishes for Labor Day, and also for a good, sweet and happy Rosh Hashana.

This year, Labor Day falls on Monday, September 6th, and Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins that evening. There could not be a more appropriate confluence of events. As unions and labor organizations around the United States hold their annual Labor Day events, and as Jews around the world gather together – virtually and in person – it is an opportunity to reflect on the struggles working people have been facing, even before the pandemic.

This Labor Day Weekend, we have an opportunity to honor those who do the work necessary to keep our communities and our society going, and how work has come to be an experience of both pain and promise for many in our society.

Pain: we have seen the stresses and dangers faced by workers in a time of pandemic, from front-line workers at hospitals to those involved in transportation, to those working in the fields, in grocery stores and at food processing plants, and those who educate our children, or care for our elderly and infirm.

Promise: we have also seen critical gains for workers at such places as a Frito Lay plant in Topeka, Kansas, where, after a 20-day strike, the management agreed to a key demand and a guarantee for one day off a week. Some workers there had to work seven days a week, including what they called “suicide shifts” and the company called “squeeze shifts”— back-to-back 12-hour shifts with only eight hours off in between. The new two-year contract eliminates those shifts. And we salute workers who have bravely taken on mega-corporations, from Amazon warehouse workers to Starbucks baristas, trying to join unions.

The true victory for working people, however, will be when we do a better job of assuring the right of workers to organize. All of us who work should be paid fairly, be able to stay safe on the job, and have time to spend with our families. Way too many employers get away with intimidating — even firing — workers who speak up for their rights and try to join a union. No matter our background, our race, our ethnicity, where we were born, or the job we do — we all deserve the freedom to speak up for ourselves at work without fear of punishment. It’s time for a change. That’s why it is so critical that we pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (the PRO Act): a once-in-a-generation opportunity for workers to secure a voice at work. The PRO Act is, in essence, the best hope for so many workers who would join a union, if there were no roadblocks put in their way. This was a cause championed by Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO who recently passed away. The House of Representatives passed the PRO Act in March of this year; it is now stalled in the Senate.

Even as workers organize, they must also find employers willing to listen, and negotiate honorably. This is a Jewish value. Rabbi Ben-Tzion Meir Chai Uziel (1880-1953), the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Mandatory Palestine in 1939, and then of the State of Israel, commented that “employers are obligated to behave with love, honor, good will and generosity toward their workers.”

Labor Day Weekend, like Rosh Hashana, is a time to reflect. Why must so many workers face such hard times, even as the economy seems to be improving? If you are an employer, do you behave with respect toward your workers? If you are a worker, do you have a meaningful democratic voice in your place of work?

The tough situation of so many workers in the United States is nothing new. The vast income and wealth inequality between the top 1% and everyday people stacks the cards against the rest of us. But there are now a number of crucial measures before our elected officials, with great potential to make things better – to improve health, tackle the environmental crisis, and address key infrastructure needs, and create secure, well-paying jobs.

Passing the PRO Act, making it easier to organize, is an important part of this agenda. Working men and women are mobilizing Americans who understand that the scales have been tilted against them for too long. Now is the time to come to the aid of those who build and serve America. Just look at current public opinion polling about attitudes towards unions – support for unions is almost as high as it's ever been. Roughly half of all workers in the U.S. say they would join a union if they could. Now we must make it possible for them to do just that.

Inspired by the perilous and heroic struggles of generations who came before, and the solidarity of all who are fighting now for a better and more beautiful world, we wish everyone not only a good Labor Day Weekend, but also a good, sweet and happy New Year - Shana Tova u'M'tukah, Gut Yuntif, Gut Yohr!