Iowa Meat Plant Owner: U.S. Seeks Life for First Time, Non-Violent Offense
Update: Mr. Rubashkin will be sentenced Thursday. Prosecutors are asking for a life sentence but we won't know until tomorrow what the judge decides. Sorry for the error.
There is something seriously wrong with a justice system that imposes a life sentence on a 51 year old non-violent offender. That's what may happen Thursday to Sholom Rubashkin, former CEO of Agriprocessors meat packing plant in Iowa.
Mr. Rubashkin was in charge of the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, when immigration agents landed in helicopters to detain nearly 400 illegal immigrant workers. In November, Mr. Rubashkin was convicted of 86 counts of federal bank fraud in connection with loans to the company.
Prosecutors, citing Mr. Rubashkin’s “blatant lawlessness, utter lack of remorse, his egregious and repeated attempts to obstruct justice,” have asked Judge Linda R. Reade to impose a life sentence.
Agriprocessors paid its laborers far less than the prevailing wage for the kind of work they did. If Agriprocessors had been given a chance to phase out undocumented workers (which it could likely have done only by paying fair wages to legal workers), it may have been able to avoid bankruptcy. Paying fair wages might have forced it to charge more for its products, but it apparently had limited competition given the reported shortage of kosher meats that resulted from Agriprocessors' distress. Higher consumer prices are a small price to pay for an adequately paid, safe workforce.
Perhaps Agriprocessors deserved to go out of business. It fiercely resisted unionization, choosing to employ undocumented workers (who, of necessity, work for low wages) rather than paying a fair wage that would have attracted legal workers. Its violation of child labor laws and the abusive work environment it provided were more than sufficient reason for consumers to look elsewhere for kosher foods.
Yet it's clear that the State of Iowa dropped the ball in failing to detect and to remedy the labor law violations long ago. Iowa's labor law regulators and Agriprocessors battled regularly over the company's employment practices. Still, if Iowa's regulators had been more aggressive, bq.. Agriprocessors may have cleaned up its act and stayed in business -- helping the economy in a small town that now has to weather the closing of an important local employer. Maybe Agriprocessors' owners were so incorrigible that they just wouldn't comply with the law no matter how much heat the State applied, but it isn't at all clear that state regulators turned the heat up to the temperature needed to make Agriprocessors obey the law. If it's cheaper to pay fines than to comply with regulations, that's what some businesses do.
Now it's probably too late. Not only will legal employees lose their jobs if Agriprocessors does not survive bankruptcy (and it appears from the linked article that it won't), but local businesses that depend on Agriprocessors' employees spending their paychecks locally will also suffer. The loss of a company that brings in $300 million a year will be dearly felt in Postville and surrounding towns.
The lesson to be learned, per TChris:
The lesson to be learned here has less to do with immigration reform than with the need to revitalize labor law. It should not have been so easy for Agriprocessors to resist unionization. It should not have been possible for a major employer to hire child labor. Yet since the Age of Reagan, government has more often seen unions as evil than as a mechanism for assuring justice in the workplace. Labor laws that promote unionization have been weakened, and the enforcement of laws addressing workplace safety and labor standards has been a low priority. A renewed commitment to unionization and to the enforcement of fair labor standards is necessary to prevent more businesses from engaging in the self-destructive greed that toppled Agriprocessors -- greed that will cause suffering in Postville for years to come.
No one is arguing he should get a pass. His lawyers asked for six years. Why did the Government seek life? That's how the U.S. Attorney interpreted the guidelines. Six former U.S. Attorney Generals wrote the court arguing against the life sentence: Janet Reno, William Barr, Richard Thornburgh, Edwin Meese III, Ramsey Clark and Nicholas Katzenbach.
“We cannot fathom how truly sound and sensible sentencing rules could call for a life sentence — or anything close to it — for Mr. Rubashkin, a 51-year-old, first-time, nonviolent offender,”
It's true that "Nearly 300 workers served federal prison sentences of five months for identity theft, and several human resources managers and floor supervisors were convicted of felony charges of harboring illegal immigrants." That is the fault of our unduly harsh immigration laws and the Bush Adminstration. The raids should never have taken place.
A life sentence would far exceed the draconian sentences handed down to WorldCom's Bernie Ebbers and Enron's Jeff Skilling.
Orthodox Jewish leaders have led a campaign in support of Mr. Rubashkin, and more than 16,000 people signed a petition from a Jewish Web site to Judge Reade.
“People believe in him because the mission of Agriprocessors was to provide an important means for Jews to become closer to their connection to God,” defense lawyers wrote in court papers. Many Jews believe the charges against Mr. Rubashkin were “attacks on kosher slaughter,” they wrote.
They aren't even done with Rubashkin. His state trial on labor law violations begins Tuesday. And in the irony of ironies:
Some 10 immigrant workers have received temporary visas as witnesses to testify in those cases.
Federal prosecutors held 35 other immigrants in the United States as material witnesses for Mr. Rubashkin’s immigration trial. When the immigration charges were dismissed, the immigrants were ordered to leave the country by March 31.
Our past coverage of the Postville raids and Agriprocessors is available here.
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