Northland Labor Day PosterLabor Day. For many, a three-day weekend. For some, a reminder of the importance of the labor movement, and the benefits that this movement won for its members, their families and the communities they live in, and indeed the U.S. as a whole. It’s not for nothing that the book is entitled “From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend: A Short, Illustrated History of Labor in the United States.” Or the posters, mug, t-shirts and bumper stickers

This brings us to Stuart Appelbaum’s Labor Day 2008 Op-Ed piece, online at the JTA here. It will, we hope, also appear in a number of Jewish community newpapers in the next two weeks. Stuart is the president of the Jewish Labor Committee {disclosure: where I work} and the 100,000-member Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union/UFCW. His article, “Jews, justice and the workplace,” begins simply:

In August 2006, a worker at a Rite Aid Distribution Center in Lancaster, Calif., was fired. Her name was Debbie Fontaine.

Her offense? Taking part in a campaign to organize a union. It’s an incident that may not make many of us think about our responsibilities as Jews, but this Labor Day it should.

And that brings us to this. The Jewish Labor Committee has joined in a multi-organizational effort to secure support for the Employee Free Choice Act. And you’re invited to join us! EFCA is critical Federal legislation that would help protect the rights of workers in the U.S. to organize and form unions. The law would give more workers a way to form unions and negotiate for better wages, health care and working conditions. The EFCA, when passed, would amend the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, by requiring employees to recognize a union when a majority of workers sign cards authorizing union representation [so-called card-check]. When passed, EFCA would also strengthen penalties for companies that coerce or intimidate their employees and establish binding arbitration mechanisms when employers and workers are unable to agree on a first contract.

National organizations supporting this proposed legislation range from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs to Americans for Democratic Action. Locally, the Progressive Jewish Alliance in California and Jews United for Justice in Washington DC have also been active in support of EFCA.

You’re invited to sign the Jewish Labor Committee’s petition in support of EFCA {and to get others to do so as well}. It will be presented to the new President and Congress. Just click here and fill in the form. You can find some additional information here.

Let me end with the last ‘graph of the aforementioned Op-Ed:

The Torah teaches Jews to pursue justice: “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof.” To some that means challenging the horrors of Darfur. For others it may be a call to fight for human rights in Burma. But the experience of Debbie Fontaine reminds us that some battles for justice are as close as the nearest workplace.