NEW YORK (JTA) – Flaum Appetizing, a kosher food distributor in Brooklyn, settled with 16 immigrant workers who claimed that the company did not pay them sufficiently for overtime work.
The $577,000 settlement that was sent to Manhattan federal court Monday comes after 18 months of activism by the Orthodox social justice group Uri L’Tzedek and Focus on the Food Chain, a coalition that advocates for food workers’ rights.
The settlement, for back wages and other compensation, resolves a federal lawsuit against Flaum and a National Labor Relations Board complaint.
“These workers asserted a great deal of power,” Daniel Gross, the executive director of Brandworkers International, a member of Focus on the Food Chain, told JTA.
Uri L’Tzedek, and Focus on the Food Chain claim they persuaded more than 120 grocery stores to boycott Flaum products; Flaum owner Moshe Grunhut said the number was lower. The groups also protested in front of Grunhut’s home.
Last fall, Uri L’Tzedek persuaded the kosher dairy company Tnuva to stop working with Flaum, which had distributed Tnuva products, until the dispute was resolved.
In a dispute that began in 2007, Gross said the workers demanded to be paid time-and-a-half for overtime work, as called for by federal and state law, but Flaum management refused and fired the workers.
Grunhut told JTA that he did not fire the workers, most of whom were Mexican immigrants. Rather, he said, they “walked out” of their jobs and were demanding back pay after leaving voluntarily. He also said the workers were not entitled to overtime pay because they were working in trucks that crossed state lines. He called the overtime issue “a gray area.”
“They wanted money for the time they didn’t work,” Grunhut told JTA. “They walked out of the job. I asked them to come back. I said, ‘If you don’t return, I’ll replace you.’ "
The workers sued Flaum in Manhattan federal court and made a complaint before the NLRB, which decided in their favor. But Grunhut did not comply with the decision, claiming that the workers were undocumented immigrants. The NLRB said Grunhut did not have enough evidence to make that claim.
Gross called Grunhut’s allegations “unfounded.” Grunhut said the NLRB “wants me to prove it but won’t let me prove it,” adding that he wanted the workers to testify regarding their immigration status but the NLRB deemed the proposal to be an “unfair practice.”