Senator Robert P. Casey Jr.
Jewish Labor Committee Honors Two Leaders
United States Senator Bob Casey and Greg Rosenbaum, CEO of Kosher Empire Foods.
The Philadelphia chapter of the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) held its annual Labor Human Rights Award recently.
Philadelphia JLC President Jeff Hornstein greeted the attendees then requested a moment of silence for the passing of past JLC Chairman John Fox.
“Tonight,” Hornstein continued, “we are going to honor two remarkable leaders, one in public service, and one in business.” The awardees were US Senator Robert P. Casey Jr., and Greg Rosenbaum, CEO of Kosher Empire Foods.
Ted Kirsch, President of the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers, presented Casey’s award to Gwen Camp, a member of Casey’s staff, who said that Casey was in Washington working on the health care bill.
Explaining why the Labor movement supported Casey, Kirsch said, “Because he’s one of us…When you think about the positions that he takes on almost every issue, we agree with him. Why isn’t he here tonight? He has some important business that we hope gets concluded this Saturday, [especially] health care, which is probably one of the most important issues to so many of us in this room.”
Ms. Camp accepted the award for Senator Casey saying, “I really want to thank all of you [in JLC] for making us better at our jobs, and for reminding us why we are fighting. You guys are a real inspiration to our whole staff.”
Camp read an e-mail from Casey expressing his thanks for the award. “I wish I could be there to accept the award in person,” he wrote, “but I am in Washington tonight fighting for health care legislation…The Jewish Labor Committee is a living testimony to the importance of the right to organize and collectively bargain. With your message of justice locally and around the world, you inspire me to uphold that standard of justice.”
Wendell Young IV, President of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, presented the award to Greg Rosenbaum. Of Empire Kosher, Young said, “This place has been through some really tough times…It wasn’t too long ago [when] we had a lot of people laid off, and we met with previous CEOs and it was always about concessions and downsizing, and the eventuality that this plant would not succeed and close.”
Greg Rosenbaum, CEO of Kosher Empire Foods.
When Young initially met with Rosenbaum, he said, “It was a difficult conversation, but it was also very obvious in our conversations that he really cared about turning this business around;” Rosenbaum was concerned about “improving the business, improving the sales, and not wanting to take anything away from people that they worked too hard for, for too long.”
Today, added Young, “We don’t have anybody laid off; we have a plant that is growing and expanding and adding new lines.” He commended Rosenbaum as “someone’s who’s been a great partner in the community, here, in New York, and elsewhere, to help deliver food to the needy.”
In accepting his award, Rosenbaum commended Philadelphia JLC Director Rosalind Spiegel for organizing the event, and Janet Ryder, Vice-President for Labor Participation of the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, for “the fine work that she does and they do, both in advancing the cause of labor, and for taking care of the least fortunate in our communities.” Rosenbaum also commended Daniel Kutner, Consul General of Israel, “whose presence reminds us that our sights must go beyond our community, and we must consider the plight of Jews and non-Jews who are suffering everywhere.”
Hornstein recalled his work in the American Federation of Teachers’ organizing drive for graduate workers in the University of Pennsylvania. “Very soon,” he said, “I started hearing about Roz Spiegel and an organization called the Jewish Labor Committee.” The JLC, he said, “became an important and integral part of our campaign” for the graduate students.
Hornstein recalled his childhood, where he visited “these very interesting great aunts and uncles I had in Brooklyn, who were something called ‘building reps’, in this mysterious organization called the UFT (United Federation of Teachers)….Then in forth grade, I interviewed my grandmother for a class project and found out she was something called a shop steward in the more mysterious ILGWU (International Ladies Garment Workers Union)….I also learned that her brothers were also activists in the needle trades unions in New York City. They were righteous Jews, they were fighters for social justice.”
“I came to understand,” added Hornstein, “the moral imperative that I believe Jews have, to support the struggles of working people, whatever their race, creed, ethnicity, or nationality.” The Philadelphia JLC, added Hornstein, has supported such local labor struggles as those of Comcast workers, Security officers, janitors, and meat-packing workers; it has also, he added, “put together a rabbinic cabinet, with several dozen area rabbis, who lend their moral authority to the struggles of working people.”
Rosalind Spiegel, Philadelphia JLC Director, greeted the attendees, and praised “the activists who have given, and continue to give so much of themselves to make the Jewish Labor Committee what it is, a voice in the Jewish community [for Labor] and a Jewish voice in the Labor movement.”
The history of the American labor movement, said Spiegel, has its roots in Jewish law and traditions. “Almost all self-governing Jewish communities throughout history set up systems to insure that every family has access to health care. Doctors were required to lower their rates for poor patients. The entire community joined together to make sure that the people without money could always get the care that they needed. These norms were based on communal values, that it was the duty of a moral society to guarantee health care for all. The values of mutual responsibility, fairness, and fair treatment of workers in particular, is grounded in religious commandments which are imbued with respect for labor rights. Jewish Religious laws anticipate secular labor laws by thousands of years.”
Daniel Kutner, Consul General of Israel, also spoke adding his appreciation for the work of Senator Casey and Mr. Rosenbaum. He remarked that, “We are also honoring the work of hundreds of men and women who are activists, who have given and who continue to give so much in order to make the Jewish Labor Committee what it is today, a voice and a force for human justice and for dignity.” Trade unionists, said Kutner , helped to create and build the State of Israel “…especially in the critical first years, the first decade. Today, Israel, like other countries, is struggling with the need to defend workers rights while keeping our economy competitive in the global economy.”
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