March 14, 2012
By Rabbi Michael Feinberg, Executive Director Greater New York Labor Coalition
The members of the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition, have joined with workers throughout New York State in calling on our political leaders to recognize the moral right of workers to a just and fair pension in return for their years of public service. We raise our voices in concern over legislation that would introduce a sixth tier to New York’s pension system. We see this proposal as unnecessary and morally suspect as the lowest paid public employees will be expected to pay more, work longer and receive less benefits.
It is deeply disturbing to witness the assault on public sector workers that is occurring across our country. There was a time in our nation when we appreciated the vital role that public sector employees played in insuring the delivery of essential public services and maintaining the infrastructure that is vital to our economy. As religious leaders, we call upon our society to recognize that these attacks are an unfair and unjust assault on the legitimate right of workers to organize and bargain collectively to secure a just wage and a fair pension. Even if persons will not recognize the moral right of workers to a just wage and fair pension, they must recognize that it is in the economic and social interest of our country that workers receive what they need to live in dignity so that they can contribute to the economic vitality of our nation.
We find it particularly offensive that our society would seek to undermine the security of our retirees. After a lifetime of public service, they have earned the right to be able to live a life free from need and to enjoy the dignity that is the inherent right of every man and woman. Our society is rapidly losing its moral balance as we demand no sacrifices from those who are wealthy, but make repeated demands for sacrifices from working men and women. Our society should remind itself of the indictment the great prophet Ezekiel issued against the people of his day: “This was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food and prosperous ease but did not aid the poor and needy.” We have tremendous wealth in our nation and in our state. It is not just, therefore, for our political leaders to demand inordinate sacrifices from workers.
It is time for people of faith to rise up and remind our political leaders that they may not sacrifice the rights of workers in order to appease those with wealth and power. “To those whom much has been given, much will be demanded.” This basic biblical principle has been inverted in our current political climate so that from those to whom much has been given, the least has been asked. While to those to whom the least has been given, the most has been demanded. It is time for persons of faith to restore the moral balance in our city, state and nation. Let us oppose the proposed Tier VI while making it clear to our political leaders that we will not allow our public sector employees to be vilified and to have their legitimate rights denied.