Two publications on the Postville plant and Raid
Teens Worked Illegally at Agriprocessors
Des Moines Register
BY CLARK KAUFFMAN AND NIGEL DUARA • CKAUFFMAN@DMREG.COM • AUGUST 6, 2008
The Agriprocessors meat-processing plant in Postville could be hit with up to $1 million in fines as a result of alleged violations of child-labor laws.
The state's labor commissioner is asking Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller to pursue charges against Agriprocessors for what is alleged to be a record-setting number of criminal violations related to underage Iowa workers.
"There's no doubt it's probably the largest case in the history of the state," said Labor Commissioner Dave Neil. "The investigation brings to light egregious violations of virtually every aspect of Iowa's child-labor laws."
U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Ia., said Tuesday that he was "appalled by what appears to be blatant and widespread violations of Iowa's child-labor laws at Agriprocessors."
The company is the nation's biggest producer of kosher meats and is already under investigation by federal authorities for possible violations of immigration-related labor laws. On May 12, authorities detained 389 Agriprocessors workers in the nation's largest-ever, single-site immigration raid. Most of those arrested are serving five-month jail sentences out of state and will face deportation.
Neil said the state's recently completed child-labor investigation indicates that at least 57 juveniles, ranging from 14 to 17 years old, have worked illegally in the Postville plant. Investigators found evidence of multiple labor-law violations in each of those 57 cases, he said.
In the May 12 raid, 12 juveniles were among those detained. Officials said then that the juveniles were plant employees.
Meat-processing plants are considered one of the more dangerous types of places to work in America. State records related to workplace injuries at the Postville plant show that between 2003 and 2005, the company reported 306 employee injuries, including chemical burns, smashed limbs, hand lacerations and severed fingers.
Company spokesman Menachem Lubinsky said Agriprocessors executives were unaware that some of their employees were underage. He said the Iowa Department of Labor has not responded to the company's requests for the names of those workers.
"The policy of the com-pany was not to hire underage workers," he said. "When it became aware of four such workers, it immediately fired them."
In a written statement, the company said it "asks the public to keep an open mind and wait for the evidence before making any judgments about these, or any other, allegations." The statement said the company has "cooperated with the government throughout its investigation, providing documents and opening its plant and its records to government inspection."
In late July, three members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus spent three hours at a meeting in Postville listening to former Agriprocessors workers tell about working at the plant.
Several teenagers said they took production-line jobs at Agriprocessors when they were 14 or 15, and that they often worked grueling shifts lasting 12 hours or more.
Shortly after the raid in May, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which had been trying to organize Agriprocessors' employees, said it had alerted government investigators that the plant was exploiting underage workers and paying them off the books.
Former Postville school district Superintendent David Strudthoff said it wasn't a secret that underage children worked at the plant. However, he said the number of cases of child-labor-law violations surprised him.
Strudthoff said he wondered what the number 57 signified. "Is it the same kid, coming and re-entering?" he asked. "That happens."
Some of the violations alleged by the state include minors working in prohibited occupations; exceeding the allowable hours for working; being exposed to hazardous chemicals; and working with prohibited tools.
Neil said he was asking Miller to "prosecute these violations to the fullest extent of the law."
Miller's chief of staff, Eric Tabor, released a written statement saying the office "will enforce Iowa criminal law if there have been violations of the law."
Although child-labor violations are prosecuted as criminal offenses in Iowa, the defendants in such cases are the employing corporations, not the individual executives who may have been responsible for the alleged wrongdoing, said Iowa Workforce Development spokeswoman Kerry Koonce.
The violations are considered a misdemeanor offense and carry a fine of roughly $50 per day, per violation.
If a company is found to have continuously violated two separate child-labor laws by employing just one child for one full year, the potential fine would total $36,500. In the Agriprocessors matter, with 57 separate cases, each involving multiple violations over an undefined period of time, the minimum potential fine could be substantial.
"We could be looking at $500,000 to $1 million in fines," Koonce said.
In the past, Agriprocessors has had potential fines for workplace safety violations reduced substantially through negotiations with Iowa labor officials. But those cases were handled as administrative matters, not as criminal cases. Any fines imposed as a result of the alleged child-labor violations will be through a court order, since the case is now being treated as a criminal matter.
Koonce said the state's investigation has uncovered evidence that company officials may have been aware that children were working illegally in the facility.
"Right now we're interviewing individuals, and there are indications that, yes, there are some people in management who may have known," she said.
The state is still in the process of conducting a separate investigation into general wage violations at the Postville plant.
In early April, Postville school officials were served with a subpoena from the Iowa Division of Labor Services. The subpoena sought records of middle school and high school students, as well as information about some school employees.
Among the records being sought was the employment contract of high school guidance counselor and local landlord Ron Wahls, as well as the names of children working for Wahls at apartment buildings that were sold to one of Agriprocessors' founders, Sholom Rubashkin.
For years, Wahls' name has circulated in Postville as someone who can help immigrants from Guatemala and Ukraine get settled in the town.
"I hope it's like any family," Wahls said in May. "If I help you, you tell your relatives. Maybe I can (help them), maybe I can't."
In June, Wahls was served with a summons to appear before a grand jury.
for Des Moines Register article click here
by SHMUEL HERZFELD
August 6, 2008
New York Times Op-Ed
Unfortunately, this year kosher meat has become a different type of symbol, one not of mourning and spiritual devotion but of ridicule, embarrassment and hypocrisy. In May in Postville, Iowa, immigration officials raided Agriprocessors Inc., the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the countryThis poses a grave problem and calls into question whether the food processed in the plant qualifies as kosher.
You see, there is precedent for declaring something nonkosher on the basis of how employees are treated. Yisroel Salanter, the great 19th-century rabbi, is famously believed to have refused to certify a matzo factory as kosher on the grounds that the workers were being treated unfairly. In addition to the hypocrisy of calling something kosher when it is being sold and produced in an unethical manner, we have to take into account disturbing information about the plant that has come to light.
for link to NYT op-ed essay click here