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Thursday, August 30, 2007

It's Time to Walk
Alternatively: A Job is NOT a Chessed

Recently I ran into someone, but never had a chance to follow up on a topic she brought up the first time I met her at a friend's home. Newly married, pregnant, and lacking regular employment while her and her husband were enrolled in college programs, they were counting on their limited sources of income, one of which included her husband's part time position in a boy's Yeshiva school, to make ends meet.

But, ends were not meeting as planned. For months, they have been dipping into their savings (read: wedding gifts) to pay their rent and other basic expenses. He, like too many others, was not being paid for his services. She was quite upset by the situation, but felt powerless.

I too was upset by the situation. Naturally I was upset that an institution whose purpose is to perpetuate Torah observance is causing such a chillul Hashem. But, as I meet and hear about more and more people who have stayed on at institutions that fall behind with pay, I am starting to think that maybe it is time to ask those holding these jobs to take a stronger stand for themselves and their families (although it really shouldn't be on their heads).

In other words. . . . . . there is a time to pack your bag and walk off campus. A job is not a chessed. It is a means to supporting your family. And I think in the frum community, we forget this (I can't imagine an employee sticking around K-mart, e.g., if they were behind with pay three months running or even three weeks running).

While I can understand a higher paid employee waiting for that elusive paycheck, I see no reason for a low paid employee to continue volunteering his services in hopes of being paid (and unfortunately sometimes these employees never do get paid). So why gamble? At a certain point it is time to start filling applications for another job and sit down with the staff at a temp agency. I think that when you have used your savings to pay your rent, that time has come.

Of course, it is easier said than done to walk off a job. One rightfully worries about their reputation and doesn't want to make enemies. But employment is "at will" and I hate to see anyone's good nature used and abused, but especially the good nature of a newlywed couple.

I'd love to hear practical solutions about how to leave a job and cover your bases when you don't get paid. Any lawyers out there? Anyone who actually walked off campus out there? Next time I am privy to a conversation I'd like to be able to give solid advice besides "walk away."


Warren Burstein said...

I'd like to suggest that you don't ask "any lawyers out there?"

Instead, suggest to your friends that they get real-life legal advice. From a free legal clinic (use google to find one near them) if they can't afford to pay a lawyer.

DAG said...

Too many in these jobs are NOT qualified to do anything else (if they are been qualified for the jobs they DO have). Walk out and go where?

On the other hand, it is OBSCENE that the Torah world has allowed this to go on to the point that is considered accepted in yeshiva circles to receive your salaries late. Is there ANY other form of employment in the United States were this would be tolerated, even on an isolated basis? This is how the paragons of Jewish tradition treat their employees?

It is not acceptable, it is not halachik and it is not proper. It's time to understand that one of the main reasons this goes on, is because for FAR too many of our schools and organizations exist to employ and provide appropriate Kavod to its Rosh, and not to serve any communal interest. Who dares tells a fuedal Lord how to run his fiefdom? We deserve better as a community.

RaggedyMom said...

Around the time I got married, I was in my first year of teaching, as was a close friend. Her husband was (is) in kollel, and mine was finishing college, so we relied on these incomes. I taught in public school and she in yeshiva.

I'll never forget how shocked I was when she said she accepted a job at this school because they "usually pay on time". I had never heard of this phenomenon before then and couldn't imagine not being paid in a timely fashion, if ever. Yikes.

SephardiLady said...

Warren-Thank you. Although, I think many of those caught in this trap would be very reluctant to walk into a law practice.

DAG-I'm starting with the assumption that those employed in low paying jobs in our Yeshiva schools are qualified to work somewhere for something. Even minimum wage paid on time is better than hoping you will get a paycheck at all (and you may never get one).

The entire situation is a blight on the Torah community. It is very discouraging and I have found those who suffer most are the most vulnerable: those taking a first job, needing part time work, newly married, etc.

Baruch Hashem we live in a country of good faith and employees don't question if they will be paid and rarely when they will be paid. Unfortunately, you hold your breathe in some of our organizations.

DAG said...

But that's the problem...these organizations are there largely to provide jobs and kavod, first and primarily to the school and organization head, but also to former kollel learners who wouldn't consider pumping gas an alternative. They have nowhere else to go...

How many of these organization heads will truly Klop Al Chaits for the squandering of Momen Hekdosh and the inexcusable treatment of their employees? How have we allowed a society to develop in which it is a well known fact that a person working for Orthodoxy Jewish organizations can EXPECT to be treated like garbage?

the day of reckoning for this obscene abuse of power and money is coming, and soon.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Heard this story from a friend a few months back. Single mother had two job offers: Working in a hotel...or working in a Yeshiva as a receptionist.

She asked a shaila which she should take, and was told hands down to take the job in the hotel, because getting paid on time was of prime importance.

SephardiLady said...

Jameel-That shaila certainly demonstrates part of the issue that a job is viewed as a chessed. Otherwise, why ask the shaila? There woul be no question if you were comparing two equal jobs with Store A and Store B and it was widely known that Store B does not pay on time.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean "not qualified to do anything else"? I know the yeshivas completely fail to teach work ethic, and most of the bochurim think free money is an entitlement for the fact that they breath air, but it is easy in America to get a good paying job. Most of the bochurim probably think most jobs are beneath them (although they don't think welfare is... go figure). But just go to Home Depot or a department store, get a sales job, and SHOW UP. You will be ahead of 95% of your co-workers by showing up, and will be a manager in a few months. I know a frum fellow here in Baltimore who quickly became a manager at home depot, because, as he puts it, "All you have to do is show up and they promote you".

The other thing I've heard the schools do is pay the married folks before the single ones, and pay the ones whose husbands "learn" more than those whose husbands work. Each person should have a salary commesurate with how much value they add to the school, and be paid every two weeks as is the derech of this country.

DAG said...

How many Kollel boys will work at Walmart?

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

I want to publicly thank the hutz l'aretz communities I was privileged to teach in: Houston, TX; Vancouver,BC; West Hartford, CT; and Boston (Maimonides). They all paid in full, on time. I had never heard of this 'not getting paid' nonsense.

The closest we came was a kollel slot (half-day learning, half-day teaching) was cancelled due to funding, but the community offered me a full time teaching position instead. I think once, in all of the places, we got paid a day late.

I do know there were people losing sleep to bring in the funds to pay us; but they did it. Now I am even more grateful.

Im ein kemah, ein Torah.

Anonymous said...

Dag--as I said, too proud to work in Walmart... not too proud to take Food Stamps, WIC, and Section 8.

twinsmommy said...

Do these yeshivos have budget committees who oversee the spending on the salary budget lines? If the money isn't going to pay faculty, then where IS it going? Or do they simply not have time to process the checks and need a better payroll department?

Is the money THERE but not being paid on TIME, or is the money not THERE and that's WHY faculty isn't paid on time?

SephardiLady said...

R. Scher-Thank you for sharing.

TwinsMommy-Using a payroll service is very inexpensive. I believe a cient of mine pays about $200 a month to run payroll for over 30 employees. Considering the time and effort, it is money well spent.

I would assume that most schools use a payroll service and that the money is not on hand, or has been used to pay certain employees before others. A good question should be how do you make payments when there is not enough money. I'd hate to be the one in the back room making that decision!

twinsmommy said...

well, as a former school administrator, I HAVE been in that back room (with the board and calculators in hand). The budget lines that get reduced mid school year in a professional environment (I wish we could call ALL Jewish schools professional!) are NEVER the teacher's salaries. We do extra fundraisers for other budget lines. Or we reduce funding on certain lines for things that the community wasn't expecting anyway. Planned for 10 field trips this year but can only afford 5? Oh well, the kids hadn't been promised a particular number anyway. I just don't understand why the salaries even need to be touched--- what, are the more "important" teachers doing unauthorized time and a half or what? *lol*

Besides, payroll is automated in such a way that the secretary (I've been her too) makes the appropriate adjustments and submits payroll. 10 minutes. Big whoop.

So no money problem, no time problem. Get it together, people. I want to send my kids to an Orthodox school, but certainly not one that doesn't pay its teachers on time. grr.

Zach Kessin said...

Maybe its time someone called the state AG, they must have an enforcement arm for this kind of thing. It is an obligation of civil law to pay your workers. (It is also an obligation of Halacha, but that doesn't seem to matter)