October 13, 2008

Agriprocessors, a huge slaughter-house and Kosher meat-packing plant in Iowa has been recruiting workers from Palau and now from the CNMI. They are trying to fill 150 open positions, and with unemployment high in the United Sates and the economy down, one has to wonder why recruit from overseas? Why not recruit from Iowa? Most likely, because of the company’s bad reputation and numerous law suits, residents do not want to work there.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) has a web-site entitled, “Eye on Agriprocessors” There are serious documented allegations against the plant. The plant has been on notice for years for a wide range of issues, including food safety, health and safety, the environment and animal welfare. The plant supervisor, was arrested in May 2008 by ICE agents for having 398 undocumented workers at the plant. The criminal complaint charges that Martin Dela Rosa-Loera criminally induced illegal aliens to reside in the United States for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain, and aided and abetted in the possession and use of fraudulent identification documents.The company has also been charged with over 250 food and safety violations between January 2006 and January 2007. Some of the violations include:

• At least five citations for faulty monitoring relating to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or "Mad Cow" disease.
• Over a dozen Noncompliance Records (NRs) issued for fecal and bile contamination of beef and poultry.
• Four NRs issued for foreign objects, plastic and metallic, found during sausage and poultry production.
• Three NRs issued in relation to rodent problems, including live rodents and feces.
• "A serious mislabeling noncompliance" involving a shipment of beef.
An article from Jewish Quarterly reports that in May 2007, the plant was hit with multiple lawsuits including a class action lawsuit charging that the company failed to pay proper wages for hours worked. Most of the workers earn $6.25 an hour. The lawsuit was followed by a massive walkout resulting in 200-300 employees leaving their posts after the company told workers to reconcile their social security numbers. One worker said:
“[The managers] are always yell, yell, yell,” said Morillo Jimenez, 53, who came to Pottsville from Guanajuanto, Mexico. “they just treat us terribly. What resulted now is that we are standing up for our rights.”
Another lawsuit was filed by an employee for unpaid overtime wages.

A New York Times article details how a raid uncovered 57 underage workers in August 2008:
Mr. Neil said that investigators had found multiple child labor law violations for each under-age worker at the plant. They included employing minors in prohibited occupations, exposing them to hazardous chemicals, and making them work with prohibited tools like knives and saws, he said.

Kerry Koonce, a spokeswoman for Iowa Workforce Development, the state labor department, said the number of under-age workers was by far the largest in an Iowa child labor case.

If convicted on criminal charges, the company could face fines of $500,000 to $1 million, Ms. Koonce said.
With a potential fine of up to $1 million, will the company even be able to stay afloat in these hard economic times?

The plant has even been criticized by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. This Telegraph Herald article quotes Obama:
"We've got to crack down on employers who are taking advantage of undocumented workers," Obama said. "When you read about a meatpacking plant hiring 13-year-olds, 14-year-olds, that is some of the most dangerous, difficult work there is. They have kids in there wielding buzz saws and cleavers, it's ridiculous.”

"And the only reason they are hiring these folks is because they want to avoid paying decent wages and providing decent benefits," Obama said.

The Saipan Tribune covered this story and quoted plant sales manager, Shalom Rubashkin, Jr. as blaming union organization for launching a corporate campaign against the company.
For a little background history, he explained that in 2006 the UFCW, one of the various unions in the U.S.A., “tried to unionize the plant. When they realized that the employees weren't going along with it, they started what's called a 'corporate campaign' against Agriprocessors, and in short misrepresent facts to try harm the company's business.”

“Unfortunately the American media is very sympathetic to unions in general, and hence these one-sided articles,” he said.
The Brooklyn branch of Agriprocessors filed a suit against the company for refusing to recognize the union according to the New York Times. The evidence that Agriprocessor is not a good place to work is substantial and unrelated to unionization. I would not recommend working at Agriprocessors.


Anonymous said...

The Palauins are good workers while many americans are lazy

Anonymous said...

Some people are good workers and some are lazy, and their nationality doesn't play a part in that. I think it's inaccurate to generalize.

Anonymous said...

So is the solution to:

a) enforce existing laws against this kind of thing; or

b) destroy the Iowa meatpacking industry, then put the entire Iowa state economy under the control of the Secretary of Homeland Security?

Anonymous said...

Hi Cactus -

I would say they should enforce the laws. I am not sure how many people like to slaughter animals and that may be why they resort to getting illegals? There are some pretty graphic videos on line about this plant by PETA. It seems like a difficult place to work.

KAP said...

I think you could get $6.25 at a McDonald's

Anonymous said...

I agree that option "a" is preferable.

I thought I should ask, however, because the equivalent of option "b" was the approach taken with respect to the CNMI and its garment industry, with the apparent hearty approval of this site.

Anonymous said...

I would never support destroying an industry, closing down businesses, or the loss of jobs. However, enforcing laws is essential to protect people's safety and rights. If violations are found there should be training for owners and supervisors so they can better follow laws and regulations to protect their workers and avoid future fines and legal action.

Most of the violations are related to greed -making more profits at the expense of the workers. Not paying overtime (as some CNMI factories were cited for), health and safety violations, etc. Hiring children in a meat-packing company is dangerous and illegal. The owners who falsified documents for illegal aliens knew they were violating the law.

I thought the CNMI garment industry collapsed because of new trade laws and companies leaving to third world countries where owners could reap greater profits. Is this was you mean when you say it was destroyed?

Anonymous said...

Kap, you are right. At McDonalds and thousands of other places in the states you can earn minimum wage. Even Disney World (known for low wages) pays better than that and it is sure a more pleasant place to work than a meat packing plant where you slit the throats of cows. But if you are an illegal looking for a job you will not find one at McDonalds or Disney World. You will find one at a place where most legals don't want to work, doing a job most legals don't want to do. If I was a legal resident of Palau or the CNMI, I would not accept a job at this place.

Anonymous said...

Most Pulauans are lucky if they can earn $2.50 a day so wages of $10/hr look great. What they don't realize is that expenses on the mainland are also much, much higher so they're really not ahead of the game.
Secondly, there has never been an NLRB election at this plant. The union considered the workers to fearful to be able to hold a free and fair election. This is a plant where if you took an unauthorized bathroom break they'd fire you and workers were regularly yelled at and cursed to work faster - often resulting in injuries.
People from CNMI would be better off staying away from this place until the company cleans up its act. There's a reason locals from Iowa won't work there.

Anonymous said...

The CNMI garment industry was destroyed by the new trade laws, which killed off the weaker factories right away, followed by the minimum wage hikes, either the first or second of which killed off the remaining stronger ones. Altogether, about 30 factories have closed, and about 15,000 jobs have been lost or moved elsewhere.

There may still be one or two factories left to be finished off next year by the new immigration laws.