Yes, once again kosher is not yosher (just)!
Pickles used to be my favorite snack, but now I can't help but think of the workers in a pickle at Flaum Appetizing before taking a bite.
Just a few years ago, Flaum, which also produces Sonny & Joe's and distributes Tnuva and Bodek products, fired seventeen Latino workers who stood up against over a decade of abusive treatment and unlawfully-withheld benefits and overtime pay.
A National Labor Relations Board judge ruled for the workers in February, 2009, but the company has not yet complied with the judge's order to pay back wages of over $260,000.
For several months now, Uri L'Tzedek: the Orthodox Social Justice organization, in partnership with Brandworkers and the Focus on the Food Chain campaign, has been raising Jewish communal awareness regarding workers' rights concerns at Flaum's food production and distribution facility.
There has been progress. Over the past few weeks, seven popular Upper West Side supermarkets, including Zabar's, Associated, and Barzini's, have discontinued the sale of Flaum Appetizing products until the company responds to consumer concerns.
"I'm glad that Associated Mega showed concern for the rights of workers along its supply chain," said Felipe Romero, a Flaum worker whose firing was held to be illegal. "I dedicated nine years of my life working very hard at Flaum but that didn't count for anything when my co-workers and I stood up against wage theft. Even though Mr. Grunhut lost the court trial, he still won't pay what he owes. The decision of Associated Mega to stop selling Flaum products demonstrates to the company that workers' rights must be taken seriously and takes us a step forward toward winning justice."
Uri L'Tzedek launched the Jewish community campaign by hosting a Social Justice Beit Midrash in December that featured stories from Flaum workers and Torah learning about food justice. Since then, we have been raising awareness about the issue in synagogues, on college campuses, and on the streets.
Jewish consumers motivated by the halakhah, "It is not the mouse who steals, but the hole that steals" (Kiddushin 56b), understand that the consumer is the ultimate enabler of the producer's abuse.
Our tradition is at stake in these scandals! Kashrut is a brilliant biblical and rabbinic mechanism for elevated moral and spiritual consciousness. When we silently consume kosher products produced under conditions of oshek (labor abuse), we not only shame our tradition but also the image of G-d in every individual in the factory.
Together, with communal pressure, we can resolve this problem and bring justice to the robbed workers. Ari Hart, the Uri L'Tzedek Co-Founder and leader of the Flaums campaign said: "We believe that the company took advantage of the workers' status and should pay the penalty the court assessed. We look forward to Flaum's resolving this issue with their workers as soon as possible so we can move forward and once again enjoy Flaum products."
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Senior Jewish Educator at UCLA Hillel and a 5th year PhD candidate at Columbia University in Moral Psychology & Epistemology. To read more Street Torah, click here.
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