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Rabbi Solomon Schiff Headshot

Thou Shalt Not Steal; Why HB 609 Undermines the Tenets of Judaism

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As a person of faith who has witnessed increasing attacks against workers across our great state of Florida, I couldn't help but pen this open appeal to my fellow Jews within the House of Representatives. The latest -- and the most viciously nonsensical -- attack against our workers is coming to us in the form of wage theft, or the nonpayment of earned wages. It's not only epidemic in the state of Florida but it also undermines the basic tenets of Judaism. The fact is that many of the most economically marginalized workers -- those with everything at risk, including their jobs, their livelihoods, and their ability to provide for themselves and their families -- must frequently contend with this unethical, illegal and morally reprehensible practice on the part of certain employers.

I strongly believe that this practice destroys the most basic contract, or covenant, upon which all sound employer-employee relations stand and undermines the very dignity of our workers. In the face of pervasive wage theft, these workers need and deserve all the support they can get from the religious community and from the law in pursuit of justice. Miami-Dade County has taken just such a step by establishing a local Wage Theft Prevention Program, which has already helped over 900 workers. Our faith calls on us to be concerned for the most economically vulnerable in society. "Do not oppress the hired laborer, who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your people or one of the sojourners in your land within your gates. Give him his wages in the daytime, and do not let the sun set on them, for he is poor, and his life depends on them, lest he cry out to God about you, for this will be counted as a sin for you." -- Deuteronomy 24:14-15

This verse is significant in that it recognizes the essential imbalance of wealth and power between employer and employee. The texts underscore both the employer's power to rob the employee -- to commit wage theft -- and the employee's utter economic dependence on his or her wages. From these verses, we understand workers to be a protected category, economically vulnerable, perhaps similar to the widows, orphans, and sojourners (strangers) whom the Torah also prohibits oppressing.

As a person of faith who believes in justice, I strongly urge politicians to vote NO on HB 609, to not suppress the ability of local communities to address the scourge of wage theft. As a religious community, we must heed God's call for justice. To that end, I extend to you the Lord's blessing for all that you are doing for the benefit of all in our community.