Some Queens College students, an adjunct sociology professor and concerned members of the public withstood the cold and held signs with phrases that read: “Orthodox Jews for Kashrut and Yashrut,” on the evening of Feb. 2.
‘Yashrut,’ the Hebrew term for ethical behavior, was what was being advocated to the people walking down Kissena Boulevard in Flushing shopping for groceries at Aron’s Kissena farms.
There have been public protests throughout the city aimed at Flaums, a kosher food company based in Brooklyn, as part of an ongoing and complicated tale of justice that began in 2008. Protestors organized at Aron’s Kissena farms because it is a grocery store that stocks Flaums products.
Flaums is accused of illegally withholding $270,000 in wages from its workers who routinely worked 60-80 hours per week. Flaums also fired 17 workers after they demanded better treatment and fair pay.
Dasi Fruchter, a QC Senior and an organizer of events with the nonprofit organization ‘Uri L Tzedek,’ aimed to raise awareness about the issue.
“It tears at the core of my Jewish values. How can a company be kosher if they are not yosher?,” said Fruchter, referring to the Hebrew word for “upright.”
Fruchter began the night’s campaign by alerting a manager of the store to the presence of the group outside. Following this, the nine protesters, which included three QC students, an alum and a QC adjunct, began handing out flyers to people in and out of cars.
After being informed of the issue, Beverly McSween, a woman who had been shopping in the store, said, “I think it’s wrong. Anybody that would exploit his workers for any type of gain is doing something wrong.”
Comments like McSween’s were echoed throughout the night as most people who stopped to listen were outraged by the actions of Flaums. Many, who stopped, promised to speak to the manager of Aron’s Kissena farms and ask him to stop carrying Flaums products until the issue was resolved.
Noam Parness, a QC senior, confirmed that most people he spoke to were receptive.
Abe Walker, an adjunct at QC who attended the campaign, believes that boycotts are among the most valuable tools protesters have. A member of Industrial Workers of the World, an international union, Walker felt obligated to come out and support the cause.
Nonprofit groups like Uri L’Tzedek and Brandworkers International have worked to educate consumers about the issue. Protests have been held in front of the home of Flaums owner Moshe Grunhut and throughout the city at groceries stocking Flaums products.
Both Flaums and Aron’s Kissena farms declined to provide any comment.
There have been conflicting claims about the details of the conflict made by Flaums on one side and workers on the other. These have left some details unclear with the workers offering one side and Flaums offering another on a website, realflaumsblog.com, created by a public relations company to “put the labor-management dispute into perspective,” according to the site.
However, after hearings in late 2008 and early 2009 by the National Labor Relations Board, Flaums was ordered to reinstate the fired workers with compensated pay. This has yet to occur despite the passing of more than two years.
Those two years have been filled with protests and events to raise consumer awareness about the issue. It is clear that this has affected Flaums because over 70 stores have refused to carry its products until the issue is resolved.
Flaums is currently entering into negotiations with the workers to finally come to a resolution.
“This feels good because it’s about time for justice to be served,” said Maria Corona, a former Flaums worker. “What happened then should not happen ever again.”