The Shmooze

Rabbis To Cheese Company: ‘Worker Exploitation Ain’t Kosher’

By Michael Kaminer

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The cheese may be kosher. But treatment of workers hasn’t been.

That’s the message a group of rabbis took Tuesday to the Midtown headquarters of a hedge fund that owns a kosher-cheese processor accused of retaliatory firings against employees who fought for overtime pay.

Crain’s New York Business reports a delegation of rabbis was turned away at the front entrance to a Lexington Avenue office building when they tried to enter, “Michael Moore-style,” to demand a meeting with executives at Apax Partners. The private equity firm owns Israeli-based kosher cheese giant Tnuva Food Industries.

According to Crain’s, Tnuva distributes its cheeses in the city through Flaum Appetizing Corp., a Brooklyn-based company that also makes pickles, hummus and herring. Flaum “is challenging a 2009 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that it unlawfully retaliated against workers who had organized to fight for overtime pay, arguing that it should not have to pay some $270,000 in back pay because the workers were undocumented.” The Forward reported on the firings last year.

Flaum, Crain’s reports, is banking on a 2002 Supreme Court decision in which a company did not have to give back pay to a worker who was fired for participating in a union drive because he was undocumented.

“That’s their defense, but we haven’t been convinced that they have enough evidence to prove that case,” Alvin Blyer, regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, told Crain’s.

The rabbis carried signs that read “Worker Exploitation Ain’t Kosher” and “Rabbis Against Worker Exploitation,” Crain’s said. The rally was organized by Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice organization, and Focus on the Food Chain, a campaign that challenges wage theft and substandard working conditions in the city’s food processing and distribution warehouses.


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