For Immediate Release:
Workers Reach Comprehensive Settlement with Prominent Seafood Company
Protracted Grassroots Campaign Saw Over 75 Leading Restaurants Stop Serving Wild Edibles Products
New York, NY- Lawyers filed with a federal bankruptcy judge a global settlement agreement totaling over $340,000 and containing strong workplace protections in a high-profile set of litigation brought by workers against one of New York's leading seafood companies, Wild Edibles, Inc.
The comprehensive settlement comes after a bitterly-contested campaign in which some two-dozen recent immigrant workers and their non-profit organization, Brandworkers, used grassroots actions, media advocacy, and community organizing in an effort to win legal accountability at Wild Edibles, which supplies seafood to some of NYC's most famed restaurants in addition to operating retail seafood outlets.
"We're on top of the world today because more than anything we showed that ordinary workers can get organized, take action together, and win," said Raymundo Lara Molina, a former Wild Edibles employee and member of Brandworkers.
The parties are requesting that the judge, Robert E. Gerber, of Federal Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, approve a settlement for over $340,000 in unpaid overtime as well as compensation for workers who were retaliated against for asserting their rights; a binding protective mechanism for collective activity; and an enforceable commitment to place Wild Edibles into compliance with all workplace laws including health & safety and anti-discrimination protections.
The settlement would resolve outstanding litigation under the Fair Labor Standards Act and National Labor Relations Act in addition to state law claims and ensure that Wild Edibles, which brought unsuccessful legal claims against the Brandworkers campaign, would refrain from filing further suits. The agreement should allow Wild Edibles to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy after being laid low by the workers' spirited campaign.
"In this economic downturn, it's more important than ever that workers' rights are respected and wage theft is not tolerated," said Cesar Barturen, a former driver at Wild Edibles and a member of Brandworkers. "The message we're sending today is that there's great power in workers taking on our problems together and speaking in a collective voice."
In a campaign that stretched over two years, workers and supporters persuaded over 75 of New York's leading fine-dining restaurants to stop serving seafood from Wild Edibles until workers' rights were respected. The workers attracted prominent supporters along the way including clergy and then City Council Member Eric Gioia, whose district included the Wild Edibles processing facility.
The workers effort at Wild Edibles was part of the Brandworkers Focus on the Food Chain initiative which is promoting a sustainable food system that incorporates respect for workers' human rights. Thousands of recent immigrants labor out of sight in NYC's food processing sector, often in workplaces where legal rights are routinely violated. Focus on the Chain provides workers with legal, advocacy, and organizing tools to win justice at work and broadcast a collective voice in the public arena.
The workers' campaign received critical support from the Industrial Workers of the World; the Law Office of Rankin and Taylor; Levy Ratner; the Urban Justice Center; Debevoise & Plimpton; Vladeck Waldman; the North Star Fund; and the New York Foundation, among many others.
Brandworkers is a New York-based non-profit organization protecting and advancing the rights of retail and food employees. The organization topped off 2009 by receiving the highly-regarded Union Square Award for pursuing social justice through grassroots mobilization.