There are some voices in our community and throughout the country who claim that dignity for workers is not conferred by an particular level of wage, but that it comes from within.
Dignity from within is certainly a faith value. I was speaking with a fellow participant in CAFe's Regional Leadership training this week about the verse "love your neighbor as yourself" from Leviticus Chapter 19. She was explaining that she tends to focus on the "loving oneself" part of that verse. In other words, we need to love ourselves first before we can love others. I responded that there is a stream of commentary from Jewish thinkers and others that would agree with her. Self-love, and according dignity to oneself, is a prerequisite of loving others well and treating our fellow human beings with dignity.
That, however, is not the end of the faith perspective on dignity. The Bible further directs every person to show others respect and dignity through their outward behavior. It teaches that workers are to be paid on time and promised wages must be paid. Workers should not face oppression of any type from their employers. Wage theft, low wages that leave a person left to seek further assistance from the community, and unjust treatment of employees who work with dedication at their jobs run counter to biblical teachings.
A living wage (along with a package of benefits) offers an employee a sign that his or her employer has the desire to show respect and to treat him or her with dignity. It is that approach that truly enhances mutual respect, dedication and a feeling of community in the workplace. The dignity that is offered from without can strengthen and affirm the feeling of dignity that resides within.