May 14, 2012

The Flaum’s Settlement in Proportion

The news that Flaum Appetizing Corp had finally settled a long-standing labor dispute with a $577,000 settlement was indeed welcome news. The company had lost quite a few accounts that responded to groups of protestors that had picketed stores that carried the Flaum’s brand as well as its Sonny & Joe’s line of Mediterranean salads, most notably its hummus. For four years, the company had maintained that it was justified in withholding the back pay of undocumented workers but the National Labor Relations Board thought otherwise. What was noteworthy was that the Flaum dispute had some of the same characteristics as the ill-fated Rubashkin case. In each case, the opponents consisted of an ad hoc coalition of interests that included activist liberal Jews, a few secular Jewish publications, a labor union, and some students in the modern Orthodox camp. The combination of such forces, each with their own agenda, no doubt contributed to blowing the events well out of proportion.

In the Flaum’s case the accusations ranged from unfair labor practices to even an unsafe work environment. As any visitor to the plant could plainly see, the majority of the labor force was happy and had not been part of the dozen and a half workers who walked off the job in 2007; the work environment was pristine and certainly not unsafe. Even the settlement was blown out of proportion when a $577,000 figure, a percentage of routine settlements in the general work force, gained national media attention. Could it be that the successful kosher food industry was being judged well beyond any proportion to the charges against them?

As one can plainly see, kosher in many parts of the world is under constant attack. In New York last week, a court ruled that the Commack butchers were out of bounds in claiming that the current kosher food laws in New York are unconstitutional. It is beyond belief that a butcher store in Long Island should carry on a crusade for 16 years only because it wanted to make a point that its Conservative certification should be accepted by all and certainly by the State of New York.  In Europe, the attacks against schechita (kosher slaughter) are almost a daily affair. At the end of the day, one wonders whether kosher survived for 3,000 years precisely because of the perennial opposition it faced.