Postville, IA Meatpacking Firm Charged With Child Labor Violations

Agriprocessers, the Postville, IA meatpacking firm that was subjected to ICE raids, has now been charged with child labor violations.

In all, 9,311 criminal misdemeanor charges involving 32 under-age workers were filed against the company, Agriprocessors Inc., and its owner, Aaron Rubashkin, and his son Sholom, who was the top manager of the packing plant in Postville, Iowa.


The complaint charges that the plant employed workers under the legal age of 18, including seven who were under 16, from Sept. 9, 2007, to May 12. Some workers, including some younger than 16, worked on machinery prohibited for employees under 18, including “conveyor belts, meat grinders, circular saws, power washers and power shears,” said an affidavit filed with the complaint.

I was in the supermarket last week and about to buy kosher hot dogs. Because of Postville, and the allegations of mistreatment of immigrant workers, it occurred to me to flip the package over and see who made them. Every brand had been made by Agriprocessors. I didn't buy them.

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    A pattern of criminal conduct. (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Fabian on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 11:57:00 AM EST
    Not a surprise.

    I do encourage everyone who is able to look up local producers of meat and dairy products.  The more you know, the better you feel.

    Breakfast today was local eggs(free range) with local bacon and local organic milk.  Plus a snack of local cheese.  I buy mass produced grains and produce, but I make a point of making my animal protein as local and humane as possible.  Protein is the most resource intensive and therefore has the biggest impact.

    Good solution (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by coigue on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 12:05:17 PM EST
    there are financial limits...but we try to eat lower on the food chain to offset the price difference.

    pattern (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by AlSmith on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 12:06:38 PM EST

    I guess if you are not interested in verifying citizenship you may not be interested in verifying age as well.

    It could be a little wink and a nod game where Agriprocessers always accepts peoples' claims that they are legible for work.

    Or maybe some of the workers are visibly under 16 and Agriprocessers should have know that they endangering these children.  


    Here a law, there a law... (none / 0) (#12)
    by Fabian on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 12:30:33 PM EST
    In our Sunday paper, there was a story about a construction contractor (not local) who was targeted by INS (or whatever it is now) for illegally employing undocumented workers.  He knew what he was doing but figured it was worth the risk of a fine.

    Guess what?  They are cracking down and it's going to be more than "a fine".  He's looking at jail time because they are throwing the book at him.

    Shows the mentality out there.  It's not about breaking the law, it's about "a fine".  And when "everyone else does it" and they are getting away with it, well...it's not much of a disincentive.


    Denver - kosher? (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by white n az on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 11:23:41 PM EST
    I find it hard to believe that you can find much of anything that is kosher in Denver. I've never seen a Jewish deli in Denver.

    As for punishment for the operators, clearly the biggest punishment is going to come from the OU (Orthodox Union) as the current administration has little interest in making successful business operators suffer but there is a bit of problem now getting laborers in Postville, IA.

    we have a lot of them (none / 0) (#26)
    by Jeralyn on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 11:31:37 PM EST
    and every supermarket has a large kosher section. Also, kosher hotdogs are sold in the regular hot dog section. You don't know too much about Denver.

    Understand the supermarket (none / 0) (#27)
    by white n az on Thu Sep 11, 2008 at 12:10:00 AM EST
    but when I went to University of Denver in the 70's, I never could find one and I'll be there in December if you know of any deli's

    Oh my God. (none / 0) (#1)
    by coigue on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 11:56:42 AM EST

    Guess I'd better go to Whole Foods for my hot dogs (not that we can afford it)


    Why are you surprised - (none / 0) (#5)
    by scribe on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 12:06:37 PM EST
    this is the Republican way of doing business.

    A hundred years ago, if you believed the Republicans and the business class they represented, the world would end if it was made illegal to use children to work in the coal mines of Pennsylvania and other states.  And the world would end if workers' compensation were made a requirement of law.

    Go watch the Molly Maguires, if you can find a copy to rent (a good place to start), to get a flavor of what the Republicans lust for your workplace and work environment to be like.

    These were passed into law, and the world did not end.  And the businesses still made a profit.

    But, that didn't stop the Republicans and the business class from hating those laws, and seeking to undermine them at every opportunity.  

    The hot-dog plant raid was low hanging fruit;  if anyone would really bother to look, they'd find a lot more of similar violations.  And Republicans to make excuses for them.  The government got into the kitchen of that plant in Postville because, if they wanted to have some justification to point to for their raid (other than criminalizing brown people), they had to find something to be a non-immigration-law violation.


    I agree. But it takes lots of people (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by coigue on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 12:13:47 PM EST
    looking the other way to enable this sort of thing. And that's where eating local is the key.

    The other thing to think about is that all the imported food we eat is beyond even the meagerly-enforced regulations that we have here.


    Well... (none / 0) (#16)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 01:00:55 PM EST
    ...this is small (and I mean small) town Iowa and the packing plant is pretty much the only game in town as far as job opportunities go.  There were a lot of people who looked the other way as a matter of self-preservation.

    self preservation at the expense of others (none / 0) (#18)
    by coigue on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 01:10:21 PM EST
    counts as "looking the other way"

    I'm not in disagreement... (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 01:18:32 PM EST
    ...in fact, I totally agree that there was a lot of looking the other way--for the reason stated above.

    Immigration Reform (none / 0) (#3)
    by WS on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 12:01:45 PM EST
    I'm hoping the impasse over immigration can finally be broken with an Obama win and a stronger Democratic Congress.   Agribusiness should not be exploiting people like this.  

    Republicans continue to demagogue this issue but one good side-effect is that more Hispanics are turning to the Democrats.  We already have the advantage among Hispanics but Bush somehow cut into that a bit in 2004 (getting into the 40's in support).  

    not everyone has that option (none / 0) (#7)
    by progrocks on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 12:13:27 PM EST
    I believe they are a Kosher packing plant, and if you must buy Kosher meat, you do not have a lot of other options. I know everywhere by me gets there meat from them, so the only other option is to be a vegetarian.  No brisket for you!

    Interesting. I have a Jewish friend (none / 0) (#10)
    by coigue on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 12:17:11 PM EST
    who would probably argue that the exact Kosher rules are out of date, but that the spirit in which they were originally formed would suggest that eating locally produced, humanely treated would be a good alternative.

    My memory may be off (none / 0) (#13)
    by Fabian on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 12:34:02 PM EST
    but I thought the main purpose behind kosher slaughtering practices was actually sanitary, not religious.  

    From my conversation with this friend (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by coigue on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 01:05:29 PM EST
    (which was 4 years ago)...she said it was considered disrespctful to the animal to drink it's blood...because that was where the spirit lived.

    So, she was saying it's about respect for the animal you are eating.


    Religion was the best way to embed the rules (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by Bulging Bracket on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 02:32:31 PM EST
    You'll note that Islam and Judaism have very similar rules around food. The desert gives you very little leeway in casual food handling, and you have to be very careful with water usage.

    Don't tell a rabbi this (or well not some rabbis), but much of the kosher practices are obviously sanitary. Same reason why the ghetto wasn't wracked by plague. Not all of the rules make sense (carrying on the sabbath, but that of course has been mostly removed by eruvs) but so many are simply best practices for staying alive in the desert.

    You can get by with much more relaxed practices in northern Europe or if you have the plumbing of a Roman city. Everyone in LA would be Hasidic style kosher without modern trappings.


    Well (none / 0) (#14)
    by Steve M on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 12:36:30 PM EST
    back in the day, the idea was probably sanitary, but any ritual becomes religious if you repeat it for enough centuries.  In a way I'd call it more cultural than religious, if that's even a valid distinction.

    As long as people work in the shadow (none / 0) (#9)
    by hairspray on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 12:16:23 PM EST
    this is going to happen. Until workers have a way to address their greviances in a legal way (immigration reform of some manner) there will always be these stories and while I believe the GOP has fostered this because of their obsession with cheap labor there are others who have abetted this as well.  On an aside, however, when an electronics plant was raided in Mississipi recently (SF Chronicle) and the Mexican workers removed, the African American workers cheered. The AA' were unhappy with the fact that the wages and conditions were depressed because the immigrants were too afraid to speak up. They also accused them of being willing to work for less thereby taking their jobs.

    Thats why (none / 0) (#11)
    by WS on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 12:19:20 PM EST
    legalizing a shadow population can help prevent exploitation.  

    I dont see it (none / 0) (#15)
    by AlSmith on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 12:55:23 PM EST

    If the underage, or their parents, are willing go to work in this place, and the company is willing to hire them, I dont see how their citizenship makes a difference.

    The fact is the company turned a blind eye and wasnt afraid of enforcement. It the company's job to make sure that it employees people safely and legally. "Legal" in this case including age appropriate jobs.

    The defense is this:
    ""People coming there looking for jobs--they bring ID with a photo, with a number," Rubashkin said. "With the same card the person go to the bank. With the same card he got his credit card. With the same card he bought a car."

    "19 million illegals here? I don't bring `em here. I pay taxes and the government supposed to control the stuff." "


    They (none / 0) (#20)
    by WS on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 01:20:23 PM EST
    won't be afraid to be whistleblowers if they become legal and they wouldn't be desperate enough to accept criminally low wages.  Also, new employment opportunities will open up to a previously undocumented population instead of limited to who will be bend the rules to accept them.    

    Amnesty isn't the answer (none / 0) (#22)
    by Bulging Bracket on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 02:41:13 PM EST
    It will just encourage more people to come here and work in the shadows.

    The real problem is the criminally LOW level of legal immigration. With better enforcement and higher legal immigration, you can put the snakeheads out of business. An amnesty just increases the business and profits of the vile traffickers.

    The people using illegal labor are bad, but they're not the people who truly need to be shut down (they just need to raise their wages). It's the organized crime that moves the illegals into the country for extravagant fees from their cargo and then kills them, enslaves them, pimps them, and tortures them depending on how the smuggling run goes.

    Snakeheads can only be put out of business the same way Al Capone was - legal market. It would also clear up horrible plants like this. More people will have to cut their own lawns, and California will lose hand washed cars, but it's a good trade.

    But people need to stop advocating for amnesty, as its a political loser, won't solve the problem, and it doesn't attack the truly evil players.


    Leaving (none / 0) (#23)
    by WS on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 03:10:19 PM EST
    12 million people to the wolves is inhumane and wrong.  The Obama immigration plan has it right that it requires undocumented immigrants (not illegals - stop using right wing terminology) to pay a fine and back taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line behind those already filed.  The plan also increases security along the border and have new employment enforcement mechanisms to prevent the immigration system from breaking down to this level again.  

    Also, Hispanics don't seem to think immigration reform is a political loser.  They've become even more Democratic since the Republicans demagogued the issue.  Its a tight wire act to be sure politics and policy wise but immigration policy can be both humane and upholding the nation's immigration's laws.  


    the logic extended (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by AlSmith on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 05:57:20 PM EST
    "Leaving 12 million people to the wolves is inhumane and wrong."

    so wouldnt that logic extend to the entire Mexican population? I am assuming that the people working that the life have a better life than they had in Mexico.

    I think the solution is going to have to involve

    1. enforcement
    2. people doing what Jeralyn did and refusing to buy product

    obviously the owner is hiding behind the defense of "they showed me a card". That not going to change unless law enforcement makes it worth his while.

    Your Logic is Faulty (none / 0) (#28)
    by WS on Thu Sep 11, 2008 at 12:05:01 PM EST
    because undocumented immigrants are not just from Mexico and come from many parts of South America and the world.  

    Obama and Hillary's plans do include enforcement and tries to fix the loopholes that created this mess to begin with.  Employers can use the "card" defense and get away with it and the new immigration plan and their immigration plan would make it more risky for employers to do what they're doing.  

    Coupled with increased enforcement, there needs to be something done with the 12 million already here.  Leaving them to their fate is inhumane and creates an underclass of desperate people.  They are not leaving as they're American born children are here and whatever earnings they can make here is better than in their home country.  

    Undocumented immigrants do have to pay for their offense as in paying a fine and back taxes, and no, exile would be too harsh a punishment just like i believe the death penalty is too harsh a punishment for murderers.  Life in prison is an appropriate punishment for convicted murderers as a monetary punishment is an appropriate punishment for undocumented people.  

    The Democratic plan fixes the holes in the broken immigration system while also being compassionate.