A major kosher food distributor will pay more than $1 million in compensation to workers who went on strike over inadequate wages two years ago, in a settlement brokered by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
But the Brooklyn-based Tuv Taam Corp., which packages frozen meals, may be in for a bigger hit when the National Labor Relations Board rules on a separate longstanding case alleging that members were punished for trying to unionize.
"They could be forced to pay more," said Mayra Peters-Quintero of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund. "The complaint will be decided any day now."
The settlement announced last week requires Tuv Taam, whose name means "good taste," to provide $860,000 in back pay to 200 mostly Hispanic workers who said they were forced to work overtime without proper compensation and paid less than minimum wage, as well as $215,000 in damages. Spitzer said the agreement also would "put in place basic reforms to ensure that workers are compensated fairly."
Tuv Taam admits no wrongdoing. "This was a business decision," a company manager who gave his name as David Robert said in a brief phone interview. (No such person was known at the company, however, when The Jewish Week made a subsequent call to the firm.) "There is still a whole process people have to go through to validate their claims," said the manager.
According to Spitzer’s office, Tuv Taam was cited repeatedly for violations of state and federal labor laws from 1996 to 2001. The attorney general’s Labor Bureau found that Tuv Taam paid employees as little as $4 per hour and that workers who spent as much as 70 hours per week on the job were not paid time-and-a-half, as required by law. Minimum wage is currently $5.15.
Tuv Taam had entered into an agreement with the NLRB in the spring of 2002 to provide back pay to workers allegedly locked out because of their pro-union activities. But a subsequent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that undocumented workers were not entitled to back pay, and Tuv Taam’s lawyers reportedly maintained they are no longer bound by the agreement. Quinteros insists the high court ruling does not apply to this case.
Quinteros said conditions since the strike have improved at the plant. "There is no more forced overtime," she said.