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February 5: Fighting for Low-Wage Workers

Lawrence Bush
February 5, 2017
Beth Shulman, a vice-president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and chair of the National Employment Law Project, died at 60 on this date in 2010. Shulman was the author of The Betrayal of Work: How Low-Wage Jobs Fail 30 Million Americans (2003) and a leading advocate for a new social contract with low-wage workers. She graduated from UCLA with a philosophy degree, and received a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1974. “A common misconception is that low-wage jobs are only found in your neighborhood McDonalds,” she told PBS in 2003. “Yet fast-food jobs constitute less than 5 percent of all low-wage jobs. Low-wage jobs are nurse’s aides and home health aides, security guards, child care workers and educational assistants maids and porters, 1-800 call-center workers, bank tellers, data-entry keyers, cooks, food-preparation workers, waiters and waitresses, cashiers and pharmacy assistants, poultry, fish and meat processors, laundry and dry cleaning operators and agricultural workers. They are jobs in the mainstream of our economy and our lives. . . . America’s low-wage workers are mostly white, female, high school educated, and with family responsibilities.” “Consigning millions of Americans to dead-end, low-wage jobs endangers the notion of equal opportunity. A key to turning this around is understanding what made ‘good jobs’ good. There is nothing inherent in welding bumpers onto cars or manufacturing steel girders that makes those better jobs than caring for children or guarding office buildings. Workers organizing through unions, and the passage of social legislation, raised wages and created paid leave and retirement benefits in these initially ‘bad’ manufacturing jobs, changing them into good middle-class positions.”--Beth Shulman

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.