For Immediate Release:
Focus on the Food Chain
August 18, 2011
Contact: press (at) brandworkers.org
Energetic Worker-Led Campaign Saw Key Customers Drop the Distribution Warehouse Until Workers' Rights Were Respected
Queens, NY – Immigrant workers at Pur Pac, a food distribution warehouse supplying many landmark Chinese restaurants, bakeries, and cafes in Chinatown and around the City, have won a major settlement with the company after prevailing in a bitterly contested workplace justice campaign. The comprehensive settlement will return $470,000 in illegally withheld minimum wage and overtime pay and subjects Pur Pac to a binding code of conduct which includes protection for collective activity and compels compliance with all workplace laws including anti-discrimination and health & safety protections. The workers organized with Focus on the Food Chain, a joint campaign from Brandworkers and the IWW which is challenging sweatshop conditions in a sprawling industrial corridor of food processing and distribution warehouses that service New York City markets and restaurants.
"No one who wakes up and goes to work every day should have their wages stolen," said Primo Aguilar, a former worker at Pur Pac and a leading member of the campaign. "I feel proud today that my co-workers and I stood up, got organized, and won. This settlement means a great deal for us and our families but also for our effort with the Focus campaign to win respect for all of New York City's food processing and distribution workers."
Through grassroots advocacy and protest, the workers persuaded key food retail customers of Pur Pac to stop doing business with the company until the dispute was resolved. Pursuant to the settlement, workers' representatives are notifying customers that the dispute has been favorably resolved. Pur Pac's product line includes bulk rice, sugar, cooking oil, chop sticks, and soy sauce. In a previous companion agreement, Pur Pac acknowledged that it was the successor to two predecessor companies, E-Z Supply Corp. and Sunrise Plus Corp., and has recognized the Industrial Workers of the World labor union as the exclusive collective bargaining agent of Pur Pac employees.
"Every New Yorker depends on workers like the ones at Pur Pac for the food we all need to survive and thrive," said Daniel Gross, the executive director of Brandworkers. "But for far too long, the City's food processing and distribution employees have constituted an invisible workforce, out-of-sight and out-of-mind. The conditions in the sector are deplorable and systemic but, as the Pur Pac workers have shown, positive workplace change can and will be won. Today, we're savoring the workers' hard-earned victory and could not be more proud to be associated with this march toward justice."
Pur Pac, through successor companies, engaged in massive wage theft against its Latino and Chinese employees and fired them illegally when they asserted their rights. By engaging in two sham sales and re-branding efforts, the company attempted to evade liability even after losing cases in federal court and the National Labor Relations Board. The victory is the largest yet for Focus on the Food Chain, which prevailed last year in a high-profile workplace justice campaign at a seafood processing facility in Queens.
Ridgewood-based Pur Pac lies along a corridor of food factories starting in East Williamsburg and Bushwick in Brooklyn and extending into Ridgewood and Maspeth in Queens. Wage theft, retaliation discrimination, and reckless disregard for worker health and safety are endemic in the sector. Earlier this year, the corridor claimed the life of Juan Baten, a Guatemalan immigrant crushed to death at the tortilla factory where he worked, a death that the Occupational Health & Safety Administration found would have been prevented if not for the employer's disregard for basic safety precautions.
Focus on the Food Chain promotes a sustainable food system that incorporates respect for workers' human rights. Through worker-led organizing, direct action, and litigation, the Focus campaign is challenging and overcoming sweatshop conditions in New York's food processing and distribution warehouses. The campaign is currently engaged in a high-octane initiative for workplace justice at Brooklyn-based Flaum Appetizing Corp., a kosher food company that produces Sonny & Joe's hummus and distributes Tnuva products, the leading global kosher cheese brand.
Brandworkers is a Queens-based non-profit organization protecting and advancing the rights of retail and food employees. Through legal, advocacy, and organizing support for low-wage employees, Brandworkers promotes employer compliance with the law and challenges corporate misconduct in the community.
Founded in 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World is a grassroots labor union dedicated to member-led organizing and workplace democracy.
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