On November 13, 2008, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) supervised an election at Alle Processing to determine if workers wished to be represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 342. Alle produces kosher products under the Meal Mart, Mon Cuisine, and Mrs. Schreiber labels.
The union lost the vote.
Local 342 appealed to the NLRB alleging more then a dozen Alle violations of NLRB election regulations. An Administrative Law Judge for the NLRB has recently upheld many of the unions complaints, thrown out the results of the vote, and ordered a new election.
The Judge found that the President of Alle engaged in surveillance, deemed “coercive conduct” when he had his nephew stand at the entrance to the facility and “… photograph union representatives speaking to employees” 24 hours before the vote.
Furthermore, an employee testified at the appeal hearing, that during a captured audience meeting with workers the President mentioned “… another company named Agriprocessors and said that after a union tried to organize that company, it closed down.“ According to the testimony the President went on to say, “… there was a possibility that Alle could close down because it could not afford to pay the employees what the Union wanted.”
Threatening to close the plant in response to a union organizing drive is a clear violation of labor law.
The Judge ruled that the Company’s President, “… made statements that reasonably would lead employees to believe that unionization could lead to a closing of the plant and the loss of their jobs.” Furthermore, he found that leaflets threatening plant closings and loss of jobs “…were either stapled to payroll checks and distributed to employees or were made available outside the plant managers’ office.”
A new election will not address the intimidation which has already taken place. Many of the workers are new immigrants and they no longer feel the voting process is sacrosanct. It will take a herculean effort by the UFCW to restore worker confidence in the democratic process.
From a Jewish perspective, was Alle’s behavior ethical? Honest behavior – ‘Yashrut’ in Hebrew – is intimately connected to Kashrut, Jewish dietary laws. Should we trust the kashrut of a company whose managers and owners cheat workers out of fair representation? Jewish law warns that if a butcher cheats on his weights and measures do not trust the kashrut of his products.
Company’s often feel they can violate a workers’ right to freely chose to be represented by a union because current US labor law is weak: a slap on the wrist, a new election and no penalties. If Alle had faced a $5 Million fine for each of the dozen or so violations it committed, its doubtful they would have unashamedly violated workers’ rights, and the union would certainly have won the election.
What do Iran and Alle Processing have in common? It would seem neither likes a free and fair election.
Avram Lyon is the former Executive Director of the Jewish Labor Committee and a consultant to unions, foundations and Jewish organizations. He served as a consultant to UFCW Local 342 in its effort to organize Alle Processing Company.