Queens, NY – Meal Mart Under The Microscope

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    Queens, NY – Luis Molina lost part of his middle finger to a 2,000-pound food mixer while working at what is now the country’s largest producer of kosher beef, Alle Processing.

    Molina, 23, said that the accident, which happened when a fellow employee flipped a power switch, was not a surprise, given that he and others on his team had not received safety training. But he also said that what’s happened since then has added insult to injury.

    The company, which operates a plant in Queens, stopped his pay the same hour he got injured, he said, leaving him in the lurch financially. Then, he continued, when he went into the office to talk to his supervisor, he was told that when he returned to work he would be suspended for four weeks without pay, because he used the machine improperly. After three years with the company, Molina said even this was not unexpected.

    “They love suspending people there for any little thing,” Molina said while recuperating at his home in Brooklyn as his two children ran around him. “Two weeks, three weeks, they think it’s a joke ’cause they got that little power.”

    The company did not respond to numerous phone messages and declined to meet when the Forward visited the plant.

    For the past two years, all eyes have been on the working conditions at the nation’s largest producer of kosher beef and chicken — Agriprocessors — and the scrutiny has grown more intense since May, when Agriprocessors’ Iowa slaughterhouse was the subject of a massive immigration raid. Even before the raid, the ethics behind kosher food production had become a topic of national debate as some rabbis argued that the treatment of workers in the plants should be considered along with the methods of slaughter prescribed by Jewish law (see related story).

    Since the Agriprocessors raid, industry experts say, Alle has become the biggest producer of kosher beef. In several interviews, Alle workers made complaints about many of the same issues that have plagued Agriprocessors: low pay, unhappy relations with management, and a lack of health benefits and safety training.

    “I’ve worked a lot of jobs,” said Jonathan King, a five-year veteran at Alle who was outside eating his lunch with co-workers recently. “But this is the worst place in the world to work. They don’t care nothing about us. As long as the stuff gets made, that’s all they care about.”

    At both Agriprocessors and Alle, the worker complaints have surfaced in the midst of an effort by the United Food and Commercial Workers to organize the employees. No vote is planned yet at Alle.

    Dave Young, a regional organizing director for UFCW Local 342, has worked on campaigns with both companies. He placed Alle right behind Agriprocessors in problems with labor relations.

    “Do I think they treat the people as bad as Agri? No,” Young said. “Do I think they are anywhere close to what they should be? Absolutely not. It’s very similar to Agri in that they don’t have paid vacation or health, and there’s lots of favoritism.”

    Perhaps the most marked similarities between both plants are issues that have arisen because of the presence of workers that other employees say are undocumented immigrants. Kimborn Morris, who was fired by Alle earlier this summer, said that there is a clear division between legal and illegal immigrants.

    “They would always tell me in advance if I had to do overtime,” Morris said. “If my name was Garcia, they’d say, ‘You can’t leave — you gotta finish that.’”

    During the recent union drive, employees say that the company held meetings to discourage workers from joining the union. Multiple employees said that there would be one meeting for English-speaking workers and another for Spanish-speaking workers with a different message.

    “We Americans — we get one version,” King said. “They, they get the version that if they talk out here, they’ll call the immigration office — have them deported.”

    Susanne, an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador who worked at Alle until July, confirmed King’s account and said she was aware that her lack of citizenship gave her a handicap with the management.

    “Those who are citizens don’t get treated the same way,” said Susanne, who did not give her last name because of her legal status.

    Alle Processing employs nearly 300 people at its plant in the Maspeth neighborhood, which sits just off the Long Island Expressway with an enormous sign announcing “Kosher Foods.” The company does not own a slaughterhouse; instead, meat is shipped in from independent slaughterhouses. The workers in Queens are responsible for processing kosher products for a wide array of subsidiary companies, including the Meal Mart restaurant chain, Mon Cuisine and NY Kosher Deli. The company is a leading producer of institutional kosher food and has contracts with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and a number of airlines.

    The Weinstock family founded Alle in 1954, and today the company’s president is Albert Weinstock.

    Industry experts say the company was founded in response to a request from the top rabbi, or rebbe, of the Satmar Hasidic sect, who wanted a reliable supply of glatt kosher meat for his community. Alle brands generally have a good reputation among kosher certifiers.

    “Anytime I have issues, they address it immediately and deal with it,” said Rabbi Yudel Shain, head of the Kosher Consumers Union.

    The plant has been around long enough that it has confronted labor unions previously. In 1995, newspapers reported that workers voted to join the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, but it appears that the two sides never signed a contract.

    There are currently two efforts to organize the workers. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is in the midst of a campaign to organize the dozen or so truckers who work for Alle. They voted on August 28, and the Teamsters claim to have won 7-5. Another four workers voted against the union, but the Teamsters say that these were employees who were brought in specifically to spoil the election. The union has filed a challenge to the vote with the National Labor Relations Board. Before the vote, truckers say, company managers held meetings twice a week, pushing the workers not to join the union.

    Companies are permitted to speak with workers about impending union votes, but they are generally not allowed to threaten workers for interacting with unions. The UFCW, which is trying to organize the hundreds of employees inside the plant, submitted a charge to the NLRB, alleging that Morris, a 23-year-old who was responsible for the Frank-O-Matic machine in the plant, was fired because of his work on behalf of the union. That charge was denied by the company and is being investigated. Morris told the Forward that the fears he heard among immigrant workers have made him skeptical of the union’s chances.

    “A lot of people don’t want the union, ’cause they got threatened that they’ll be deported,” Morris said.

    In the past, the U.S. Supreme Court has protected the right of undocumented immigrants to join labor unions.

    One of the citizens who is in favor of a union is Darnell Pierre, 22, who has worked at the plant for nearly a year, most recently making packaged meals. Like others interviewed, he said that when he was hired he was promised a raise after 90 days and another after six months. Nearly a year later, Pierre said he is still earning his starting wage of $7.15 an hour, the minimum wage in New York State.

    For Pierre, an equally pressing issue has been the capricious nature with which he says he has been treated. He bikes to work from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn to begin work each morning at 6:30, but he rarely knows when his shift will end.

    “I get off whatever time they tell me to leave,” Pierre told the Forward, speaking outside the company gates. “Some days I come in there at 6 in the morning and don’t leave until 9 o’clock at night.”

    He would feel better about that if he were getting paid for sick days, or for all the Jewish holidays he has to take off, or if he received health care benefits. “I never had a job where I had so many problems,” Pierre said.

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    40 COMMENTS

    1. yeah, the unions and left wing jews (a.k.a. The Forward) see blood in the water after what happened to Rubashkin so now they’re going after Alle. Unfortunate, but quite predictable.

    2. nu where are all the accusuers and haters of agri, why dont they come here and do the same, im waiting to see how many idots show their fac and comment like they did against agri, but my guess is they wont cause they are self hating jews.

    3. oh thanks v i n now its mealmarts turn .dont u c who is behind it all? the forward & the union! when r the muslim halal plants going to b redeculed? and 2nd of all if u dont like ur job leave it ! nobody is putting a gun to these workers heads

    4. Charlie Brown:

      Are you saying that the account published here is not true?

      Or, are you saying that, even if it is true, “Who cares?”

      In other words, it means nothing to you if your fellow human beings are abused?

    5. This proves the point that the scrutiny that Rubashkin has been under has been vicious, dishonest and unfair.

      Every meat packing plant will have incidents.

      Nu, so now they’re after Meal Mart.

      Those who have bought into the hype and acted like judge, jury and prosecutor enabled this attack on Meal Mart.

      To Paraphrase the famous poet and pastor, Martin Niemoller:

      In Iowa, PETA came first for the Rubashkins, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Rubashkin.

      And then the UNIONS came for the Rubashkins, and the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Rubashkin, and besides they are Lubavitch.

      And then they came for Meal Mart, and I didn’t speak up because I don’t even buy Meal Mart.

      And then they came to Ban Shechita, and there was no one Glatt Kosher company left to fight or provide it anymore.

    6. every person knows what and where alle / meal mart stands for, and dont use the shechita ban as an excuse , they do mistreat there fellow workers

      just ask the yungelite that work there with no pension , no security, and no future for the average person working except for a handful of them and of course the millions that the weinstock are producing on the backs of there workers ,so dont rush to side with them they are not 18k gold, it is well known in the industry

    7. So let’s see, the Backward attemps to speak to someone at Alle and no one wants to talk to them? What a suprise! Does anyone expect the Backward to be fair and honest with anything resembling Torah Umitzvos? I certainly dont.

    8. Please tell me what pension and health plans are the other industries offering??? In the garment district, do they have nice safe workplaces with paid vacations and pensions?? Does wal mart provide anything to their workers? Do the farmers pay the immigrant pickers well enough? do they offer them health plans? job security? Of course not. Even the treife meat packing plants have a very long list of the workers complaints about unsafe working conditions and all the other stuff. This is what minimum wage workers face all over the country and the world.

      But please don’t say anything about goyishe companies because it is a chillul hashem. Just bash the yiddish owned ones.

    9. To all of you who simply don’t know the facts, let me just inform you a little, I currently work at the plant & I personally know all of these workers mentioned in the above article. These are people who are simply bitter to the core & are just looking for some attention, which they hope to achieve by bad mouthing their supervisors & bosses. However the truth is that, management is extremely liked by all of us, & the entire work force in the plant is like one big happy family. Management treats every single worker with enormous respect & go out of their way to satisfy us to the best of their ability. Believe me, whatever they will just do to please these ‘few bitter workers’ will never be enough & will never be appreciated. Now, Those are the facts!

    10. SA,

      of course I care if ppl are abused but this article is completely one-sided. Nowhere do they present Alle’s viewpoint. And the reason is because Alle was smart enough to refuse to talk to the Forward which, based on its history of anti-frum bias would have probably taken their words out of context to make them look bad anyway. Look at how they take the worker’s words as fact and don’t even mention the possibility that they are exaagerating.

      This is not an honest journalistic investigation by an unbiased newspaper but a smear by the unholy alliance of left wing jews and the unions who each have their own reasons to want to destroy Alle and Agri.

      The unions want to destroy any non-union shop and the left wingers – such as the forward – hate anything orthodox. They know that there is big money in kashrus and they want to get into that market by portraying their hechsher tzedek as being more attuned with jewish values than hechsherim which just keep tabs on the kashrus of an establishment.

      And most of the stuff in the article is not abuse. The guy with the finger claims he didn’t do anything wrong but perhaps he wasn’t following safety procedures and was therefore punished? There is no way to know, especially if we don’t hear Alle’s side of the story.

      But the rest of the cases shows the bias of the Forward. Not getting paid for days off and not getting medical benefits aren’t abuse. They are part of the job. If someone doesn’t like it they can leave. I work as a white collar consultant for a major company and I don’t get paid for sick days, legal holidays etc either. Those are the terms of my employment and if I don’t like it I can look for a better job. And the guy who never knows when his shift will end and hasn’t gotten a raise – that’s abuse? Unpleasant yes, but abuse it’s not. Get another job!

    11. SA,

      FYI – I don’t work at Alle and don’t know the owners or anyone who works there. I just feel strongly against outsiders trying to destroy and control kosher food production. Nothing good can come out of it.

    12. So Anonymous NY 8:02 …

      you think Jewish values are no better then goyisha values like at Wal-Mart? And that is OK with you? Nice to see you think as Jews we should hold to a higher moral and ethical standard!

    13. this just goes to prove that all those who came out against rubashkin dont care about the shechita or the kashrus or anything jewish lhalacha, there is maybe thirty comments here and the article is up for about 3 or four hours now, when ever a rubashkin article comes up there are many more comments bad mouthing them and what not, this just goes to prove that all you people who yell and scream oiy yiddishkeit and oiy veiz mir we have to shteig away, are all full of it, and cant just stand that chabad in this world dominates any chassidus in recognition and the yiddishe things they do.

      shame on all of you!!!

      yuo should go and kiss the rubashkins feet and ask forgiveness ten times over, because if not as you would say oiy veiz mir whats gonna be with “his” olam haba, because its always him that you can speak about bad and not your own self.

    14. My opinion from all the talk about Agri and now all the new talk about Alle, is that we should hire frum Jewish people to do these jobs. The non Jews are the ones who are bringing the lawsuits and the inspectors. They get paid well but it’s never enough for them so they tell on each other and they complain about working conditions. We should hire and pay frum people to do the jobs. Finished.

      We already pay the highest prices for our meat and poultry. Let’s pay our own a little more and so, we will pay even a little more high prices but we will get it done without the chillul Hashem.

    15. Anyone who has started married life working at this type of job knows how demoralising such jobs can be. You work long hours and come home with a tiny check that runs out before the next pay day. Biblical slavery at least mandates that your physical needs be met by the person to whom you are indentured. I really hate PETA and the hypocrites at hechsher tsedek, but the way to fight them is to take away their complaints by addressing them. The Communist Party was a leader in defending the civil rights of African Americans. The Republicans and the Democrats saw that the complaints of Blacks were justified, so they stepped in and worked for racial equality. The same process took place in the early days of the labour movement. Mainstream parties stole the thunder of the extremists by fixing what was wrong.

      PETA and Hechsher Tsedek are trying to destroy Torah Judaism. By leaving the issue of Labour problems unaddressed, we play into their hands,and lose spiritually weak Jews who see this issue as a reason to forsake religious observance.

      This Torah issue should be addressed decisively by bnei Torah, not those who are against the Torah

      Magdeburger Joe

    16. For all those who think that this is a either antisemitism or a way to ban shechita go read this http://www.forward.com/articles/14147/ and find that many kosher meat producers get high marks except of cause the frum owned ones, what a surprise LOL

      I know many people like to use the antisemitism argument or anti frum argument whenever news comes out that a yid or a frum owned company did or does wrong.

      PLEASE wake up and smell the coffee there are a few bad, and or thieves amongst the yiddin. The reason why many frum owned electronic stores got a bad rap was not because they were owned by frum people. The simple reason was they were cheating the customers that why. And there are still frum electronic store cheaters around.

      Here is one store with an excellent reputation, one can go on the internet and see they have almost a perfect rating by customers and everybody knows that it is owned by chassidem yet they rate them excellent. I am talking about B&H, simply because they are honest and have good prices and good customer service. Please cut the bull, open the blinders and realizes that amongst us there are some sleaze balls and we should not patronize them.

      Just because a person wears a black hat and davens and keeps shabbos and only drinks filtered water does not mean he is a good person. That just means he keeps only 1/2 the Torah the other halve that deals with how to deal with people he ignores as if the Torah never mentioned s it at all

    17. To Avrohom Abba

      I think it is a good idea lets hire frum people to do those jobs for $7:15 an hour no health benefits, no paid holidays. And if one gets injured, fire him and tell him you are not needed anymore. I wonder how long it will take for the frum yiddin to SCREAM we want a union now and go on strike.

      I cannot wait. Boy would that be a chillul Hashem, on a scale that I cannot imagine.

      PS are you delusional to think all the accusation are false and Rubashkin are angels. Are you so blind that you cannot see they treat their workers horribly, knowingly hired illegals paying them below minimum wages and even then rubashkin tried to cheat them out of overtime.

      Do you really think that 1/2 their work force where illegals and they knew nothing about that?

      If so Rubashkin must be the dumbest person alive and also very lucky to be so successful

    18. BTW, if the spics are’nt happy at this job let them quit and go find something else. Also, if Alle didnt fire the sons of kalovim after what was said here, they are stupid.

      Sorry for the language. I tried cleaning it up as much as possible. I am sick and tired of these people being here against the law and then having the chutzpa to complain. GET THE HECK OUT OF MY COUNTRY YOU ILLEGAL %$%^&^&!

    19. I hope all of you frum yidden who attacked Rubashkin when it was just the “Lubavitcher meat” getting attacked are a little wiser now.

      HKB’H sends us messages in elul for achdus bkama oifanim.

    20. Avrohom Abba says we should hire yiddish workers.

      A yid cannot live on the wages a goy could live on. If you had to pay no tuiton (public school) Buy your food anywhere (for much less than kosher food.) A goy can work 7 days a week, no Shabbos and Yom Tov expenses. There is a reason why immigrants are still in the USA…It’s because most of the Americans would not want to do the jobs that they do.

      If the gvt was really inclined to rid the States of illegals, they could do it. But they know that the industries will crash, and the cost of living will rise and be an economical disaster.

    21. This makes me want to start eating Treif. The more I hear of so called ‘kosher’ meat plants treating their staff like this, makes me wonder why exactly is this meat is called kosher. Im pretty sure g-d didnt intend that the only thing that makes meat kosher is proper shchita..

      Cheaper meats and a proper staff with decent benefits sounds more enticing to me.

    22. What have we become? So many of you express such vicious, cold and mean-spirited sentiments when the employees who may have been expoited and abused are non-Jews, and the alleged perpatrators are Yidden. Where is your obligation to emulate Hashem’s yud gimmel midos? Do we have any principles any more? Or, is it merely Yidden uber alles and to heck with all other humanity – who are we behaving like now? This is so sad. A git Shabbos to everyone.

    23. Please my brothers – no more comments about wanting to eat treif – this is not our Holy Torah – what some people are writing here is an offense against the Torah. Unfortunately, just like during the times of the churban Beis HaMikdash, too many Yidden are just doing bad things – just don’t blame or abandon the Torah.

    24. If this is true, it is the worst chillul hashem ever. The gemara says that certain workers overloaded some transport device and it broke, causing a severe loss of merchandise. The amora wanted to collect damages from the workers to pay for the merchandise. The gemara says that the psak is that not only can he not collect damages, but he must pay them their salary because of v’asisa hayashar v’hatov (lifnim meshuras hadin).

    25. Pashuteh Yid Says:

      comments – arrow If this is true, it is the worst chillul hashem ever. The gemara says that certain workers overloaded some transport device and it broke, causing a severe loss of merchandise. The amora wanted to collect damages from the workers to pay for the merchandise. The gemara says that the psak is that not only can he not collect damages, but he must pay them their salary because of v’asisa hayashar v’hatov (lifnim meshuras hadin).

      Thank You Thank you

      from your quote I imagine gemara would be repulsed by rubashkin and 90% of the comments here. It seems many want to be frum only for bain adom lamakon and the heck with the rest of the commandments

    26. I can’t believe the stuff people write. No one knows what’s true and what isn’t. Check out the characters of the owners of these businesses and see if you believe the stories printed by the Forward. When immigrants are here illegaly, they can’t expect to get paid well; that’s saved for the legals. Plenty of educated people don’t get paid for holidays and other days off, but for whatever reason they either keep the job or not. The illegal immigrants can’t expect better than that!

    27. I can’t believe the stuff people write. No one knows what’s true and what isn’t. Check out the characters of the owners of these businesses and see if you believe the stories printed by the Forward. When immigrants are here illegally, they can’t expect to get paid well; that’s saved for the legals. Plenty of educated people don’t get paid for holidays and other days off, but for whatever reason they either keep the job or not. The illegal immigrants can’t expect better than that!

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