05 May 2011
Embattled Kosher Food Factory Faces Growing Retail Consensus on Workers’ Rights Abuses
New York, NY- Morton Williams, a well-known chain of twelve supermarkets, has discontinued the sale of Sonny & Joe’s hummus over concerns about workers’ rights violations at Flaum Appetizing Corp., the Brooklyn-based producer and owner of the Sonny & Joe’s brand. Morton Williams joins a critical mass of prominent retailers including Fairway, Zabar’s, and Food Emporium that have dropped Sonny & Joe’s hummus after immigrant workers began speaking out against pervasive wage theft, abusive management, and denial of benefits at Flaum. Workers are waging an energetic campaign with the Focus on the Food Chain initiative to bring Flaum Appetizing and its owner Moishe Grunhut into compliance with the rule of law and to recover illegally withheld compensation. 45 supermarket and grocery store locations have pulled Sonny & Joe’s hummus off the shelves amid the heated dispute over Flaum’s lack of respect for immigrant workers.
“I’m proud of the thirteen years of hard work I put in at Flaum and I know it was wrong for the company to fire me after all those years,” said Placido Romero, a former Flaum employee who the National Labor Relations Board found was fired illegally. “My co-workers and I will press on with our campaign until we win respect for the hard work that made Mr. Grunhut a multimillionaire, while we struggle to pay rent and put food on the table.”
A National Labor Relations Board trial found that Flaum illegally fired seventeen of its Latino workers after the employees stood up against over a decade of unlawfully withheld overtime pay, denial of benefits, and abusive treatment from management. Flaum has continued for over two years to resist complying with the court order including the payment of over $260,000 in lost wages by making discriminatory allegations about the workers’ immigration status. In addition, Flaum owes hundreds of thousands of dollars for unpaid overtime and for minimum wage violations.
Focus on the Food Chain, a collaboration of non-profit organization Brandworkers and the NYC Industrial Workers of the World labor union, works to overcome deplorable conditions in an industrial corridor of food processing and distribution warehouses in Brooklyn and Queens. Working conditions at Flaum are typical of the sector, where violations of basic workers’ rights, exploitation of recent immigrants, and relentless retaliation against worker organizing are the norm. Still, workers have shown a steady resolve to speak out and take action for positive change. Every day an increasing number of New Yorkers and supporters around the country are joining the Focus campaign’s call for fair pay and respect in the processing and distribution warehouses that provide much of the food eaten at restaurants and purchased from grocery stores.
“I’m pleased that Morton Williams heard the workers’ call for justice and demonstrated concern for human rights in its supply chain,” said Daniel Gross, the director of Brandworkers. “With a clear consensus emerging among retail leaders, Flaum and Moishe Grunhut should read the writing on the wall and accept a just settlement which recognizes the tremendous contribution of immigrant workers to the company.”
The Focus on the Food Chain campaign promotes a sustainable food system that incorporates respect for workers’ human rights. Through worker-led organizing, direct action, and litigation, the Focus campaign challenges and overcomes sweatshop conditions in New York’s food processing and distribution warehouses. The Industrial Workers of the World is a dynamic and member-driven union committed to workplace democracy and global solidarity. Brandworkers International is a non-profit organization protecting and advancing the rights of retail and food employees.
Contact – press (at) brandworkers.org