Submitted on Wed, 05/23/2012 - 8:55pm
By Daniel Gross - May 7, 2012
We are overjoyed to announce the biggest victory yet from Focus on the Food Chain! Workers at Flaum Appetizing, with your unwavering support, have won their campaign with an exemplary global agreement. Our members have recovered $577,000 in unpaid wages and compensation for retaliation along with a binding code of conduct ensuring Flaum comports with all workplace rights going forward including anti-discrimination and health & safety protections.
You can check out some of the press coverage on today's victory:
New York Times: Kosher-Food Manufacturer to Pay $577,000 in Settlement
Crain's New York: Settlement paves way for end of hummus boycott
Jewish Daily Forward: Uri L'Tzedek Celebrates Flaums Victory
For over a decade, workers at Flaum Appetizing worked grueling sixty to eighty hour work weeks without overtime pay and sometimes not even the minimum wage. Latino workers were subjected to constant verbal harassment and forced to work at unsafe speeds. Focus on the Food Chain, a joint project of Brandworkers and the NYC IWW, helped the workers launch a powerful campaign that persuaded over 120 grocery store locations to remove Flaum products from their shelves and convinced the world's largest kosher cheese company to stop using Flaum as a distributor until workers' rights were respected. In the process, Flaum workers won a precedent-setting victory at the Labor Board in D.C. helping workers nationwide fend off unfounded allegations into their immigration status.
Submitted on Sat, 04/28/2012 - 12:44pm
By liberte Locke - April 11, 2012
I drag my broken jittery body home through the maze of late night construction New York City subways. I finally reach my quiet apartment where the only ones up are our three cats screaming for food and persistently walking just where I’m trying to walk. Tonight I manage to not step on them but usually, in this state, I can’t help it. I apologize with head-pettings and catnip. I feed the cats and then remember that I spent my entire lunch break at work chain smoking away that last extremely rude customer I had before clocking for my break instead of eating the ramen noodles that I brought. I open the fridge and realize that every meal possible would take way more work than I have in me so I close the door.
I go to the bathroom and while peeing set my alarm on my phone. This is a ritual. I’ve learned in the past that it is completely possible after a closing shift that I may just fall asleep in the bathroom. And if not the bathroom, maybe while sitting up trying to eat a late meal or laying on the couch watching tv. So setting my alarm as soon as I get home is crucial. Being late to work when I’m targeted by management (because of being a union organizer) is not an option, ever.
I’m awake enough from all the caffeine I consumed at my job, Starbucks, that I don’t fall asleep in the bathroom but I do spend ten minutes fumbling brainlessly through the clean laundry I didn’t have time to put up. I’m looking for something loose to sleep in – it takes so long because twice I forget entirely why I’m digging through the bag and I start putting laundry up thinking that is what I what I meant to be doing. I then suddenly stop, thinking to myself, “it’s too late for this, I’m exhausted. Go to bed. Go to bed.” I finally change and go into the living room to watch tv.
I already know that going straight to bed, no matter how tired I am, won’t work. I have to turn off my brain first. Without some distraction my brain will just fill will endless To-Do lists. My responsibilities pile up. All the things I need to get done combine with what I’d like to get done. I’m filled with regret for what I was unable to get done with my day because of having work and then being too exhausted to do anything else. I’m so tired that petty concerns really consume me. I think and re-think about Facebook status updates to reflect my exhaustion and busyness just praying that all the crucial folks will see it and realize why I haven’t returned their phone calls, emails, or finished my deadlines for different projects. These lists go on and on but I’m too tired to even hold a pen to write the lists down.
Submitted on Sun, 04/01/2012 - 7:50pm
By Daniel Gross - March 29, 2012
I write with great emotion, gratitude, and hope for the future. Nothing has reached as deep into the soul of the Brandworkers community as the crushing death of Juan Baten in a Brooklyn tortilla factory at the beginning of last year. And nothing has fortified our determination for change as much as the courageous efforts of Juan's widow, Rosario Ramirez, to achieve justice for Juan and their daughter Daisy Stephanie.
Juan lost his life because of his employer's reckless disregard for worker health & safety, a problem of endemic proportions in New York City's food processing factories and distribution warehouses. OSHA, the federal workplace safety agency, concluded that Juan's death would have been prevented had the employer placed a legally required and simple machine guard on the mixer that brutally ended Juan's life. After Juan's death, the factory owner Erasmo Ponce and fellow managers threatened workers if they cooperated with investigators, lied about Juan's death, and even disrespected Rosario at Juan's funeral.
Who would have challenged the employer's false narrative in the media and to government authorities if not for you, the Brandworkers community?
Who would have raised thousands of dollars for Rosario and Daisy if not for you, the Brandworkers community?
Who would have persistently advocated for Erasmo Ponce's arrest to the Office of the Attorney General if not for you, the Brandworkers community?
After this lengthy struggle and with your accompaniment, on Tuesday Rosario finally got some of the solace she so profoundly deserves. Authorities arrested sweatshop owner Erasmo Ponce on 26 felony counts and 23 misdemeanor counts, including falsifying business documents, wage-related violations, and misconduct in connection with the unemployment and workers compensation systems.
Submitted on Sun, 03/11/2012 - 3:11pm
By Daniel Gross - March 9, 2012
Members of Focus on the Food Chain at one of New York City's largest industrial bakeries launched a campaign on Wednesday to win respect at work in the face of an aggressive attempt by the factory's new private equity owners to degrade their jobs. Drivers at Queens-based Tom Cat Bakery, a leading supplier of artisanal breads to many of the New York metro area's finest restaurants and gourmet food retailers, are forced to work under a highly abusive manager and are being threatened with severe health care cutbacks.
The Tom Cat workers, mostly Latin American immigrants, gathered yesterday in Long Island City with worker and student allies representing a variety of groups including the Occupy Wall Street Immigrant Worker Justice Working Group, Food Chain Workers Alliance, Jornaleros Unidos de Woodside, the Laundry Workers Center, the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, and Domestic Workers United.
Together, workers and supporters marched to the plant where the drivers read and delivered a Declaration of Dignity, outlining workers' expectations of management in the area of respectful treatment, affordable family health care, and equal treatment of all workers. The action was an incredibly inspiring start to the Tom Cat workers' march to justice and represents the latest effort in the growing movement to transform New York City's food processing factories and distribution warehouses.
New York City's food processing and distribution sector supports the livelihoods of 35,000 workers and their families, yet the sector is increasingly characterized by a business model that relies on low quality jobs and mistreatment of a largely immigrant workforce. Focus on the Food Chain is a member-led campaign of workers in the sector organizing to promote good jobs and a sustainable local food system. The Focus campaign is a joint project of Brandworkers and the NYC Industrial Workers of the World labor union.
Submitted on Mon, 02/13/2012 - 1:15am
By Daniel Gross - Counterpunch, January 24, 2012
A year ago today, Juan Baten, a 22-year-old Guatemalan, was crushed to death while working in a Brooklyn tortilla factory. Mr. Baten was one of 35,000 workers in a little-known, but indispensable part of New York’s food system: a sprawling industrial sector of food processing factories and distribution warehouses that supply the grocery stores and restaurants where New Yorkers purchase their food. A year later, justice has still not been done in Mr. Baten’s case and New York’s food supply chain continues to rely on the systematic exploitation of recent immigrant workers, many from Latin America and China.
Mr. Baten started working at Tortilleria Chinantla when he was just sixteen years old. He was working to support his young family – his partner Rosario and their baby daughter Daisy Stephanie – and to send money back home to Guatemala where his father had recently died. Mr. Baten worked grueling, long shifts through the night for low pay, six days a week. On one such night a year ago, just hours after he called to check on his daughter, Mr. Baten was caught in the mixing machine in which he was brutally killed.
After conducting an investigation of the death, OSHA, the federal workplace safety agency, concluded that had the employer obeyed its legal duty and placed a required guard on the mixing machine, Juan Baten would be alive with his family today. Instead, because of what OSHA called Chinantla’s “disregard for the law’s requirements” or “indifference to worker safety and health,” Daisy Stephanie is growing up without her father and Rosario lives with a deep wound in her heart.