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Flaum settles kosher food fight for $577,000

WILLIAMSBURG — Twenty former employees who complained about working conditions have reached a settlement with a Williamsburg kosher food manufacturer.

Flaum Appetizing agreed to pay $577,000 in back wages and other compensation, according to the ex-employees' attorney, Stuart Lichten.

"The workers have been struggling to get what they were owed, and now they’re satisfied," Lichten told the Eagle.

Moishe Grudhut, Flaum's owner, told Crain’s New York Business that he agreed to the settlement because he was tired of the long dispute.

"I'm thrilled, I'm gratified, I'm excited to get over with this litigation," he said. "I was glad to pay our previous employees compensation. Let's call it a day, and, hopefully, we shall resume business and grow our company to new highs."

Although more than 120 supermarkets reportedly stopped selling Flaum products because of the controversy, Grudhut insisted that sales were at a record high.

"It wasn't so much a financial pressure," he said. "It was more a burden, a stressful time. Lawyers cost a lot of money. It's not the way I'd like to be spending my days, on litigation."

The Park Slope Food Co-op voted in 2010 to remove Flaum’s hummus, pickles, salads and other products from its shelves.

"More than anything, I want fellow workers in the food factories and warehouses to know that there is real power in coming together and struggling together," Maria Corona, one of the workers, said in a statement. "We won the respect we deserve and you can, too."

Most of the workers are Mexican immigrants. A nonprofit group advocated for them. The case started in 2007.

Asked about the case, Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, said he knew nothing about it, but added, "Flaum is a very reputable company providing a very important food service to the greater Jewish community."

"The business model in this critical part of the food supply chain increasingly relies on cutting corners and exploiting immigrant workers of color," the New York Times' City Room blog quoted Daniel Gross, executive director of Brandworkers, an advocacy group based in Long Island City that represents workers in the food processing and retailing industries. "With their exemplary victory, the Flaum workers have shown that abusive workplaces in this sector can be transformed through organizing, grassroots advocacy and litigation," he said.

"Many rabbis and community members stood with the workers of Flaum and will continue to energetically support an ethical food system," said Rabbi Ari Hart, co-founder of Uri L’Tzedek, a Jewish social justice organization. "The Torah calls on us to fight for justice."

Downtown attorney Steve Cohn, former Democratic district leader for Williamsburg, said he thinks "it’s always good when two sides come together to resolve their issues, especially with a company that has such a wonderful and respected Williamsburg heritage, starting on Lee Avenue in Brooklyn."

May 7, 2012 - 2:54pm


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