Judge: Kosher Company Illegally Coerced Workers Before Union Election

By Nathaniel Popper

Published July 01, 2009.

A company that recently became the largest kosher meat producer in the United States, Alle Processing, was found by the National Labor Relations Board to have illegally intimidated its employees before a union election last fall.

Raymond Green, a judge with the government’s labor board, found that the Queens-based company had violated labor law on a number of counts before an election on November 13, 2009 in which a majority of workers voted against joining the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

In his decision, dated June 17 and just publicly released, Green wrote that Alle’s behavior “affected all or most of the employees, that it occurred close to the time of the election and that it was sufficiently coercive so that it would substantially affect the outcome of the election.”

Green ordered the company to hold new union elections. In the last election, 200 workers voted against the union, 113 for it and 53 votes were disputed.

The decision is the latest indication of problematic labor relations in the kosher meat industry. A Forward investigation in 2006 found poor working conditions and intimidation at the Postville, Iowa slaughterhouse of Agriprocessors, which was the largest kosher meat company at that time. Since those articles, Agriprocessors was the subject of an immigration raid that eventually led the company to file for bankruptcy.

The issue of worker intimidation at Alle was first raised by another Forward investigation last fall, which detailed the concerns of workers at the company, particularly those who are undocumented immigrants. The judge’s decision this week echoes many of the complaints that were enumerated in that Forward article. One employee told the judge that the company’s president, Sam Hollander, had threatened to call immigration authorities if the workers voted to unionize. Other workers told the judge that during meetings with employees, Hollander pointed to Agriprocessors and said that Alle could meet the same fate if workers chose to unionize.

The judge determined that the company had put up posters, and stapled leaflets to workers’ paychecks threatening that workers would lose their job if they voted to join the union. One sign posted near the company’s time clocks said, “Obama says Unions are a bad deal for workers today. Save your job. Vote ‘No’ Union!”

Green wrote that Hollander, the company president, denied knowing about the posters and leaflets, but Green expressed skepticism about Hollander’s claim.

“Hollander’s testimony essential boils down to a claim that ‘ignorance is bliss,’” the judge wrote. “I don’t buy it.”

Alle Processing employs more than 400 workers in the Maspeth neighborhood of Queens, and is certified by most leading kosher authorities, including the Orthodox Union. It sells its products under a number of labels, including Meal Mart, Mon Cuisine and NY Kosher Deli.

A lawyer for Alle, Jeffrey Meyer, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.



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