Agriprocessors Kosher meat plant ICE raids result in rushed justice for illegals - top prices for Memorial Day beef for the BBQ
Agriprocessors is a meat packing company based in Postville, Iowa a rural town of some 2,200 people . The plant which employed about 8/900 was opened 20 years ago by Aaron Rubashkin a Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn, N.Y., especially to prepare kosher meat under rabbinical supervision .
Their Website declares Agriprocessors’ Principles and Values ;
As a business, Agriprocessors, Inc. strives to be second to none in producing the finest quality beef and poultry products at a reasonable price. We are devoted to our customers and are committed to following and upholding the federal, state, and local laws and regulations governing our business.
They include a commitment to:
Cleanliness and health
The safety and welfare of our employees, colleagues and neighbors
Stewardship of the environment
The humane treatment of our animals
The success of our community
These values and commitments are reflected in everything that Agriprocessors does.
The company, at full capacity produces around 60 % of the glatt kosher meat and 40 % of the kosher poultry in America according to Menachem Lubinsky, the editor of Kosher Today . Kosher product is retailed under the brand Aaron’s Best and is supplied nationwide to small grocery stores and meat markets. It is often 1.5 to 2 times as expensive as standard, non-kosher meat in the supermarkets . The Meat produced at Agriprocessors that doesn't meet kosher standards is sold under the Iowa Best Beef Brand.
At the end of March this year , in the most recent of repeated cases of infringements , the Iowa
Division of Labor Services cited the company for 39 workplace safety and health standards and fined the company $182,000. Occupational Safety and Health Administration have tagged AgriProcessors this year with six violations.
On May 14th Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in a long planned operation raided the plant under a search warrant based on a 60-page application. Federal agents revealed details of their six-month probe involving 12 federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the departments of labor and agriculture. (See Des Moines Register report on the days events)
In this application a former plant supervisor told investigators that some 80 percent of the workforce was illegal. They included rabbis responsible for kosher supervision, who the source believed entered the United States from Canada without proper immigration documents. the same source claimed to have confronted a human resources manager (Comments on local press resources of this person are distinctly unflattering) with Social Security cards from three employees that had the same number. The manager laughed when the matter was raised, the source said. The warrant claimed 697 plant employees were believed to have violated federal laws.
Another plant worker told federal officials that undocumented workers were paid US$5 an hour for their first few months before receiving a pay increase to US$6 per hour. The minimum wage in Iowa is US$7.25 an hour.
During the course of an interview conducted Thursday at KPVL Radio in Postville, a former employee of AgriProcessors stated he purchased false documentation at the plant.
After working for a year and being paid in cash, an AgriProcessors supervisor approached the man and asked him if he would like to have a raise and be paid by check. When the employee told the supervisor he had no documentation, the supervisor informed him he could provide a Social Security number and a name for the employee for $150.
The United Foods 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, said Jill Cashen, a union spokeswoman.
The New York Times (NYT) reported that the warrant also had an affidavit by a former plant
supervisor had told investigators that a methamphetamine laboratory had operated at the plant and that some employees had carried weapons to the plant.
Federal officials leased an expansive fairground area in nearby Waterloo to process and house the arrested workers and it now appears to provide temporary premises for processing the arrested illegal workers who are mostly Guatamalans.
In a further report yesterday the NYT gave deatils of the fast track justice in which defence lawyers handled 30 defendants eac and had been handed a deal by the prosecutors that denied their clients probation and insisted the immigrants serve prison time and agree to a rarely used judicial order for immediate deportation upon their release, signing away their rights to go to immigration court. 270 illegal immigrants were sentenced to five months in prison for working at Agriprocessors with false documents.
Failure to agree to the deal meant that they would be tried on felony identity theft charges that carry a mandatory two-year minimum jail sentence. In many cases, court documents show, the immigrants were working under real Social Security numbers or immigration visas / green cards, that belonged to other people.
Linda R. Reade, the chief judge who approved the emergency court setup, said she was , "confident there had been no rush to justice."
Matt M. Dummermuth, the United States attorney for northern Iowa, who oversaw the
prosecutions, called the operation an “astonishing success.”
No charges have been brought against managers or owners at Agriprocessors ..er ..yet , but there were indications that prosecutors are preparing a case against the company. In pleading guilty, immigrants had to agree to cooperate with any investigation.
To date Ron Wahls, a guidance counselor in the Postville public schools and the owner of several rental properties in town,received a subpoena on Thursday which summoned him to appear in June before a grand jury.
An R.W. was named in the original government affidavit that laid the legal groundwork for last week's raid at Agriprocessors. R.W. is alleged to have carried an envelope of cash with which he paid undocumented Agriprocessors employees.
Jewish officials trying to improve conditions at the plant met Sholom Rubashkin (founder Aaron Rubashkin's son) , who now runs Agriprocessors with Wahls in a November 2006 meeting in Minneapolis. A page on the Agriprocessors' Web site, headlined "Finding a Home: Postville Housing," identifies Ron Wahls as the builder of apartment buildings to house workers at the plant. "With a 33% growth in its workforce during the last two years, Agriprocessors growth has fueled a housing shortage in Postville." ..."Mr. Wahls plans on building two additional apartment buildings on adjacent lots to meet the demand for more housing."
The Cedar Rapids, Iowa "Gazette" report that the Jewish Labour Committee have reviewed the complaints of Agriprocessors employees, some of whom have contended the company abused child labor laws, failed to pay workers full wages, unnecessarily exposed workers to dangerous working conditions and sexually harassed workers.
The company ws the subject of a ruling ruling on Jan. 24 2008 by the Washington, D.C., Circuit Court in a 2006 complaint against the Brooklyn, N.Y., plant.
The company was found to have violated federal labor law by refusing to bargain with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The companies novel defence was that the majority of the employees who voted to join a union were illegal immigrants, according to the decision, so the refusal to bargain was justified.
As a result the case went to the circuit court, which ruled that undocumented workers are considered "employees" under the National Labor Relations Act even though it's unlawful for companies to employ such workers.
To people interested in these things the Des Moines Register reports that Sholom Rubashkin, whose family owns the company, since 2000 has made $23,750 in federal campaign contributions, according to Federal Election Commission records.
That includes $5,750 to the Republican Party of Iowa from 2002 through 2004. Rubashkin also gave $2,000 to Rep. Tom Latham, an Ames Republican, in 2004; $1,500 to candidate William Dix in 2006; $3,000 to candidate Stan Thompson from 2001 through 2004; $2,000 to Sen. Charles "Chuck" Grassley (Lord Patel's favourite) of New Hartford in 2004; and $2,500 to former Rep. Jim Nussle in 2000 and 2002. Grassley collected another $2,000 each from Abraham Rubashkin, Leah Rubashkin and Ryfka Rubashkin, all of Postville, in August 2004.
Craig Halverson of Griswold, the state director of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a group that opposes illegal immigration, praised federal officials."Like everyone else, we are tired of people not enforcing the laws," he said. "It always makes us feel good when we see ICE going out and conducting a raid. We just feel that there should just be a lot more raids because it is known that there are thousands and thousands of illegal aliens in the state of Iowa."
Meanwhile faced with a shortage of kosher beef for Memorial Day BBQ's , Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union’s kosher division (the main kosher certifier of the Chasidic-owned AgriProcessor), refers reporters to the OU policy of leaving work conditions, environmental concerns, and animal welfare issues in the hands of appropriate governmental agencies.“The OU’s mandate is to ensure that the meat is kosher according to Jewish law,” he says.