Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Labor violations at the Postville raid

I'd heard somewhere (can't remember where) that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid on the Postville meat processing plant in Iowa interrupted an Iowa Department of Labor investigation into labor violations at the plant. Here's an excerpt from a piece written by Mary Sanchez for the Kansas City Star.

Meanwhile, the Iowa labor investigation of Agriprocessors is getting back on track. State officials are attempting to document countless stories of chemical burns, broken bones, and amputations when body parts were caught in the machines of the plant, among other injuries. That’s in addition to accusations of child labor (one teen told of working 17-hour shifts) and of female workers being told their jobs could become easier in exchange for sexual favors.

But many of their witnesses have already been deported or have simply fled. So much for holding employers responsible for breaking the law.

Postville, Iowa. The name conjures Norman Rockwell civility, small-town values -- the moral fiber of America. Instead, it harbored a throwback to the hellish abattoirs chronicled by Upton Sinclair a century ago. And then it became, in the words of one federally certified translator brought in to help interpret for the hapless workers, "a judicial assembly line where the meat packers were mass processed."

Rabbi Dennis Sasso of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis reminds us that human dignity is one of the things that goes into making food kosher. In addition to condemning cowboy style enforcement raids by ICE, he says:

Various Jewish organizations have been working to ensure that the decentralized approach to the production of kosher food be replaced with collective standards that are attentive, beyond the ritual concerns, to the humanitarian ideals of kosher dietary practice. A Commission of Inquiry organized by the Conservative Movement is calling for increased supervision by state and labor officials of plants producing kosher products.

And the Quad City Times staff opine that the ICE's railroading the undocumented immigrants through the justice system has prevented us from holding the ones who oversaw labor abuses to account - the witnesses against them will be deported.

The American Civil Liberties Union disclosed that this hurry-up justice included scripts for prosecutors, judges and defense lawyers to follow during hearings at a holding center 70 miles away from the defendants’ homes.

Illegal or not, these detainees are eligible under the U.S. Constitution to many rights afforded American citizens. Who among us would desire a scripted hearing?

These lingering concerns become important because those jobs filled by illegal immigrants now are being taken by legal immigrants. Some of those legal immigrants are Somali natives who received U.S. refuge from their impoverished, war-torn African nation.

These Somalis had lawfully resettled in the Minneapolis area and now are showing up in Postville. They are being hired by a company with a proven track record for exploiting impoverished immigrants. The Justice Department has the guilty pleas to prove it.

Yet, Agriprocessors is allowed to limp along with a business plan that requires lousy wages for positions that only an impoverished immigrant would consider.

Agriprocessors and many other Midwestern meat processors have proven their businesses cannot succeed without immigrant labor. Our Justice and Labor departments should be working overtime to prevent the exploitation of these vulnerable workers, legal or


Instead, their narrow enforcement of one end of immigration law is putting more immigrants at risk and shielding a company already implicated for indefensible abuses.

Lastly, to all the anti-immigrant whack jobs: comment moderation is enabled, and I will post NONE of your comments. You scum have already polluted the comments pages on the newspapers I linked to. Not going to get that chance here.

1 comment:

Blogmeister said...

Just wait until the FULL story is told! The Rubashkins seem to have mastered what Nixon wanted so badly: Plausible Deniability. But now that there are 9,300 Child Labor Law violations hovering over them, and two women in Agriprocessor's Human Resources dept. are facing felony charges, it feels like we're at a "tip of the iceberg" moment. Stay tuned as people start to plea bargain.