Labor Violations at Iowa Meatpacking Plant

The immigration raid on Agriprocessors, the Postville, Iowa meatpacking plant is having greater repurcussions. Abhorrent labor conditions by the employer are coming to light.

in the aftermath of the arrests, labor investigators have reaped a bounty of new evidence from the testimony of illegal immigrants, teenagers and adults, who were caught in the raid. In formal declarations, immigrants have described pervasive labor violations at the plant, testimony that could result in criminal charges for Agriprocessors executives, labor law experts said.

Out of work and facing deportation proceedings, many of the immigrants say they now have nothing to lose in speaking up about the conditions in the plant.


The plant employed juveniles, as young as 13. The EEOC is now investigating sexual harassment claims against women employees. Some workers were forced to work 17 hour shifts six days a week.

Federal justice and immigration officials, speaking on Thursday at a hearing in Washington of the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee, said their investigations were continuing. A federal grand jury in Cedar Rapids is hearing evidence.

Hopefully, they'll be investigating the company, not just the immigrants.

Immigration authorities sent an immigrant in undercover to the plant before the raid. Here's one item he reported:

....the informant said a floor supervisor had blindfolded an immigrant with duct tape. “The floor supervisor then took one of the meat hooks and hit the Guatemalan with it,” the informant said, adding that the blow did not cause “serious injuries.”

From an underage worker named Elmer, who was forced to work 17 hour shifts and said the floor supervisors knew his real age:

Elmer L. said that he was clearing cow innards from the slaughter floor last Aug. 26 when a supervisor he described as a rabbi began yelling at him, then kicked him from behind. The blow caused a freshly-sharpened knife to fly up and cut his elbow.

He was sent to a hospital where doctors closed the laceration with eight stitches. But he said that when he returned, his elbow still stinging, to ask for some time off, his supervisor ordered him back to work.

The next day, as he was lifting a cow’s tongue, the stitches ruptured, Elmer L. said, and the wound bled again. He said he was given a bandage at the plant and sent back to work. The incident is confirmed in a worker’s injury report filed on Aug. 31, 2007, by Agriprocessors with the Iowa labor department.

Most of the workers are mired in deportation proceedings. Many will do jail time and then be deported. Some of those cooperating will receive four year "U" visas:

Most of the young immigrants have been released from detention but remain in deportation proceedings. Ms. Parras Konrad said she will ask immigration authorities to grant them special four-year temporary visas, known as U visas, which are offered to immigrants who assist in law enforcement investigations. Iowa labor officials are considering supporting some of those requests, Ms. Sheridan-Lucht said.

Agriprocessors, while not admitting wrongdoing and noting that no criminal actions have been filed against it, is changing its ways and hiring outside experts and compliance officers to overhaul its hiring and labor practices.

Mark Lauritsen, a vice president for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which has tried to organize the plant, said he remained skeptical. “They are the poster child for how a rogue company can exploit a broken immigration system,” Mr. Lauritsen said.

The discussion of immigration reform tends to focus on a path to citizenship, employer sanctions for violating immigration laws and border security. Overlooked in the need for better laws to protect the workers.

Here's a January, 2008 report (pdf) by the Human Rights Immigrant Community Action Network, an initiative of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, on human rights violations perpetrated against immigrant and refugee families, workers and communities in the U.S.

[The report]documents over 100 stories of human rights violations from across the country between 2006 and 2007. They range from immigration raids and migrant deaths at the U.S.-Mexico border to mounting detentions and deportations.

The report identifies five major trends of rights violations in immigration services and enforcement based on some 100 stories of abuse and 206 incidents of raids tracked through extensive documentation from newspaper articles, scholarly journals, reports, and interviews with affected persons and reporting by community groups. ....

Over-Raided, Under Siege concludes with a series of recommendations for Congress, state and local governments, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, and local law enforcement agencies to cease all policies, practices, measures and laws that violate international human rights norms and to protect and uphold the rights of all immigrant and refugee families, workers and communities and focus on addressing the root causes of migration.

Among the recommendations:

The U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) end immigration raids and collaboration with local, county and state police, as well as other government agencies.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) end the practice of jailing persons for mmigration status offenses and restore immigrants’ full due process rights and access to the courts.

 The Social Security Administration stop sending Social Security no-match letters to
employers. To get updated information, simply send letters to employees at their home addresses.

 The federal government ensure that labor laws protecting all workers, regardless of citizenship or immigration status, are enforced.

 DHS end and rollback border militarization policies and strategies that have caused thousands of migrant deaths and countless violations of the human and civil rights of migrants, workers, people of color, youth, communities and Indigenous peoples at the border.

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  • Display: Sort:
    After all these years... (5.00 / 4) (#1)
    by kdog on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 08:25:56 PM EST
    its still a jungle out there.

    Way of the world I guess...way its always gonna be.  All you can do is try and overcome.

    13-17 year old kids getting it from all sides really steams ya though...we're a sick sick breed.

    The employers need to be held to account (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by Radiowalla on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 09:58:52 PM EST
    for the despicable conditions of their plant.  What a disgrace!

    This isn't easy (5.00 / 4) (#3)
    by Jerrymcl89 on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 10:28:00 PM EST
    I know people have compassion for the immigrants, but this seems like a case where the abuses are bad enough that busting the employers supercedes the interests of the immigrants.

    The immigrants are breaking the law, so I'm not really against deporting them. But I'd favor giving them clemency in order to bust the people who are treating them inhumanly.

    The bottom line here is that illegals (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by hairspray on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 10:36:31 PM EST
    live in the shadows and are two frightened to fight back. This is not just the story of this plant but hundreds of others like them. When these plants also have legal workers, they find that they will not be supported by the illegals when a job conflict comes up for the same reason.  I do not see how some of the recommendations can help, for example stopping raids on these plants.  How else will the companies be held accountable?  The other recommendation is the "No-match" letters from the Social security.  The problem isn't the lack of a match it is the due process rights of the person who doesn't seem to have a match.  There need to be ways that people can avoid harrassment and deportation until all of the issues are cleared up. And if the person is to be depoprted he needs to have the right in a court of law to plead his case and that of his family if he has one.  

    how to fix this (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by diogenes on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 10:47:45 PM EST
    If the only people working here had legal status, then they could report this stuff.  Are people here suggesting that we deport illegals (thus getting rid of the vulnerable, exploitable population) or that we declare the borders wide open and designate everyone as legal?  What is the Democratic platform position on this?

    no doubt they are! (5.00 / 2) (#6)
    by cpinva on Mon Jul 28, 2008 at 12:54:33 AM EST
    Agriprocessors, while not admitting wrongdoing and noting that no criminal actions have been filed against it, is changing its ways and hiring outside experts and compliance officers to overhaul its hiring and labor practices.

    for the moment, anyway. as soon as this blows over, as it will, they'll go right back to what they were doing. risk analysis makes it profitable to continue the violations.

    as diogenes notes, the illegal immigrants are the most at risk, having nowhere to turn to for help. until the immigration issue is settled, this will continue to be the case.

    having access to the courts isn't going to do most of them any good, since economic problems in their home country isn't normally considered a legitimate reason for granting asylum.

    of course, forcing their home country's governments to get off their lazy asses, and do something there, so these people wouldn't have a reason to come here, would make all the difference, for everyone.

    There is no law against working (5.00 / 2) (#7)
    by Grace on Mon Jul 28, 2008 at 02:29:50 AM EST
    17 hour shifts as long as they are paid for them (with overtime).  There is no law against requiring this either.  (Think of firemen...)  

    Our country shouldn't operate this way, but it does.  

    The last company I worked at had two shifts:  12 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year.  They did this because it was cheaper for them to pay overtime rather than providing benefits to additional shifts.  They paid very little to most workers.  A good worker with 10+ years experience could be making around $9 an hour.  Raises were given out every two years but there were 10% cutbacks on a regular basis -- so it could take a long time to get to $9 or $10 an hour.  

    They had several white female supervisors who made $12 to $30 an hour.  (Paid way less than the men who made $100K+ a year, based on a 40 hour work week.)    

    12 hour days, 7 days a week sounds good if you haven't worked in awhile.  The money is good.  But it really grinds on you after awhile too because bodies (and families) aren't meant to work that way.    

    One time, this same company, tried to force several women to work on Christmas day.  This caused a huge uproar because everyone deserves "some" time off.  As bad as the working conditions sound, most people who worked for this company stayed for a long time because the pay was good.  Anyway, the Christmas Day thing was just too much for most employees and they took up a collection and managed to raise more money to donate to the women than they would have made if they had worked -- so they didn't work on Christmas Day.  

    The company employed illegals until they decided it would cost them too much if they got caught -- so they suddenly went through and fired people who were illegal who had worked at the company for 5+ years.  One of the saddest parts is that many of the people they fired were those who spoke the most English.  Even sadder, they fired many of them just before Christmas.  

    I'm torn on the illegal immigration issues.  I believe employers need to be fined more heavily -- and possibly be threatened with jail/prison for many of them to stop hiring illegals.  If employers wouldn't hire them, most of the illegals wouldn't be here.  It's not the fault of the workers anymore than it is the fault of the EMPLOYERS.  

    Jailtime for employers.  That would solve illegal immigration.        

    yes there is, (none / 0) (#11)
    by cpinva on Mon Jul 28, 2008 at 10:08:48 AM EST
    There is no law against working
    17 hour shifts as long as they are paid for them (with overtime).  There is no law against requiring this either.  (Think of firemen...)  

    if you're under a certain age, 16 in most states i believe. many of those caught up in this were identified as being much younger than 16. so yes, requiring them to work a 17 hour shift was illegal, even if they were paid for it.

    Why do I have the uncomfortable feeling (none / 0) (#13)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Jul 28, 2008 at 12:50:10 PM EST
    that if the plant was owned and run by ministers who produced, say, bibles, alter wine and Easter palms, that the apparent discrepancies between the teachings of the owners' religion and the owners' actual actions would be a big deal here on TL?

    please stay on topic (none / 0) (#14)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Jul 31, 2008 at 09:29:00 AM EST
    thread cleaned of personal anti-immigrant story and responses.

    regional coverage (none / 0) (#15)
    by DFLer on Thu Nov 06, 2008 at 04:22:16 PM EST
    The state assessed 10 million in fines

    From the Eastern Iowa Gazette (Cedar Rapids)

    Iowa Labor Commissioner Dave Neil announced the fine against the Postville kosher meat packer on Wednesday for violations that occurred in 2006, 2007 and the first half of 2008. They included charges that Agriprocessors failed to pay the final paychecks of 42 workers arrested in an immigration raid and unlawfully deducted $192,597 from workers' paychecks for frocks they wore on the job.

    "Once again, Agriprocessors has demonstrated a complete disregard for Iowa law," Neil said. "This continued course of violations is a black mark on Iowa's business community."

    The fines are unrelated to 9,000 child labor violations that Agriprocessors was charged with by the Iowa Attorney General's Office last month.

     The CEO arrested and off to jail in handcuffs. Among the charges was hiring illegal workers and aiding in identity theft "FOR PROFIT" !

    More from the Gazette:

    After a week in which the Agriprocessors kosher meat processing plant in Postville was hit with nearly $10 million in state penalties; its former CEO Sholom Rubashkin was arrested on charges of conspiring to hire illegal immigrants; and the meatpacker was sued by a St. Louis bank saying it had defaulted on a $35 million loan, Postville residents were waiting for the next chapter.

    Despite the uncertain future of the plant and the jobs there, there were no signs Saturday of any Agriprocessors employees getting ready to leave Postville. Omer Mohammed, who came to Postville from Nashville, said, "It isn't easy to go home."

    Another woman, who declined to be identified, said she had moved to Postville from Indianapolis but has paid so much money in rent and other expenses that she can't afford to return home.

    "They sell you a dream, but they don't come through on their promises," she said.

    The woman said the employment agency that hired her was charging her $100 a week rent on a room she shares with three others, in a house that held a total of 13 tenants. A house in Postville typically rents for about $500 a month.