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September 08, 2008

Agriprocessors Exploitation Of Workers Continues – Rent Scheme Leaves Workers Broke, Hungry

Near-zero net paychecks. Rent deposits deducted often and not refunded. Substandard housing that would be illegal in almost any other US city. $385 per month for…

a bedroom in an ill-kept house shared with three other workers – more money than a room rents for in a well-kept home in a nice area of any metropolitan area within four hour drive of Postville rents for.

This is Agriprocessors' housing, and I believe it violates US law. Without question, it violates Jewish law and simple human decency.

And Postville's church-run food shelf continues to spend $90,000 per month – most of that goes to feed current and former Agriprocesssors' workers:

…Last week, dozens of people lined up on the sidewalk outside the storefront food pantry, waiting for volunteers to give them necessities, such as cereal, canned soup, military surplus rations, chicken nuggets and toilet paper.

Even those who had good things to say about the town and their new employer said they didn't want their names printed in the newspaper, because they said their supervisors had told them not to talk to reporters.…

Pableno Gutierrez stood off to the side, unsure whether to take the offerings from the church-run charity. "Strong men like us shouldn't have to wait in line just to get some damn food," he said before deciding he'd rather go hungry.

The Nebraska native said he'd been working at Agriprocessors since July, but quit last week because he couldn't get ahead. He showed a pay stub from mid-August, for a week in which he worked 59.25 hours but netted just $87.08. The deductions included $267.40 for a rental deposit and $187.72 for rent for a bedroom in a house he shares with three other workers. He showed an earlier check stub showing a deduction of $183 for deposit. His monthly rent was $385, he said.

Gutierrez said company officials and the landlords they work with made the arrangement sound reasonable when he signed papers. But he didn't realize he would work 60-hour weeks and be left with too little money to support himself.…

[Marty Howard, an attorney and executive for Agriprocessors' staffing company, Jacobson Staffing, said…people have to decide if they can afford to live on the pay offered by a given job. "If a guy can't make it on that, then I guess he leaves," Howard said.…

How can the OU put its seal on Agriprocessors' products?

Rabbis do not have to look hard to find these abuses. They don't have to dig to see the violations of Jewish law. They're here, in public, for the whole world to see.

And what that world sees is not a Judaism that is moral, ethical and kind. The world sees a Judaism that is exploitative, cruel and heartless, a Judaism that ignores its own laws while it greedily counts its ill-gotten profits.

It is the Judaism of the stereotypical moneylender, the caricature of the greedy Jew that formed the basis for much of the European antisemitism that eventually led to the Holocaust.

But this time it is real, and it comes to us with the imprimatur of rabbinic approval – the OU seal.

The Des Moines Register reports:

Workers in need flock to jobs at Postville meatpacking plant
BY TONY LEYS

Jacobson Paystub

Postville, Ia. - New, penniless workers continue to flow into Postville from around the country, and many are struggling to start a decent life here, church officials say.

Local churches' weekly food giveaway, which used to draw about two dozen people, now attracts well over 100. Many people who took part in last Wednesday's session said they were new employees at Agriprocessors Inc., a meatpacking plant that federal immigration officials raided in May.



The Rev. Paul Ouderkirk, a Catholic priest who has helped Agriprocessors workers, said he is fed up with the plant's effects on the town. "It's just ridiculous," he said. "I go to bed each night thinking it can't be worse tomorrow morning. But then it is."

The company is trying to attract new workers to replace the hundreds who were arrested or fled when immigration agents raided the plant May 12. The company says it didn't realize those workers were illegal immigrants, and it says it has increased wages and is offering good opportunities for new workers, all of whom are checked for proper immigration papers.

But Ouderkirk and other critics say many new workers lack the resources to start life here.

Last week, dozens of people lined up on the sidewalk outside the storefront food pantry, waiting for volunteers to give them necessities, such as cereal, canned soup, military surplus rations, chicken nuggets and toilet paper.
Sewer Pipe Over Door Leak-2
Even those who had good things to say about the town and their new employer said they didn't want their names printed in the newspaper, because they said their supervisors had told them not to talk to reporters.
One of them, a 49-year-old man from Louisville, Ky., said he had been in Postville a week. A labor-recruiting firm used vans to bring him and 16 others to Postville, where they immediately found jobs at the meatpacking plant. The man said the work and pay rate had been satisfactory so far. "It's a job," he said. "You get 9-something an hour. You can't beat that."

He said his assignment at the plant was to clean machines and pick up meat that had fallen on the floor. He'd heard others complain about the work and the living conditions, but he did not join in. "I came here to work," he said. "I didn't come here to gripe and complain."

A woman standing near him in line agreed. But later, she spoke about a house where labor recruiters had placed her. At first, she said, she was expected to sleep on the floor in a dank basement. "I'd rather live on cardboard by the side of the road," she said.

Pableno Gutierrez stood off to the side, unsure whether to take the offerings from the church-run charity. "Strong men like us shouldn't have to wait in line just to get some damn food," he said before deciding he'd rather go hungry.

The Nebraska native said he'd been working at Agriprocessors since July, but quit last week because he couldn't get ahead. He showed a pay stub from mid-August, for a week in which he worked 59.25 hours but netted just $87.08. The deductions included $267.40 for a rental deposit and $187.72 for rent for a bedroom in a house he shares with three other workers. He showed an earlier check stub showing a deduction of $183 for deposit. His monthly rent was $385, he said.

Gutierrez said company officials and the landlords they work with made the arrangement sound reasonable when he signed papers. But he didn't realize he would work 60-hour weeks and be left with too little money to support himself.

In interviews, his landlord and his former employer denied doing anything wrong. The check was from Jacobson Cos., a Des Moines-based firm that has been doing the hiring for Agriprocessors since the raid. Marty Howard, a Jacobson lawyer and executive, said he didn't know the individual circumstances of the check, but he said his company is only making deductions that employees agree to beforehand.

Howard said he didn't see a major difference between having rent and deposit deducted from a paycheck, as in this case, or expecting people to make those payments independently after receiving a regular paycheck. Either way, he said, people have to decide if they can afford to live on the pay offered by a given job. "If a guy can't make it on that, then I guess he leaves," Howard said.

Gutierrez's landlord, Menahem Gabay, said that he no longer is asking the company to withhold rent from new tenants' paychecks.

Gabay said he started the practice only because so many people were coming to town with no money for deposits and first month's rent. He said he thought that he was giving them a break by agreeing to rent them an apartment if they would agree to have those costs taken out of their checks, but the practice caused too much confusion. Gabay said he has resumed his previous practice of requiring a deposit and first month's rent upfront.

An Agriprocessors executive agreed that the practice was fair. Chaim Abrahams, the plant's purchasing manager, said no one should expect a landlord to rent an apartment without any assurance of payment.

Abrahams acknowledged that the plant's work force has seen significant turnover this summer. He said many people have heard the starting wage has increased to about $10 an hour for unskilled labor, and they are coming to Postville to check out the situation.

"I think it's quite normal for people to try to come and get the opportunity to see what the work is like," Abrahams said. Some leave, he said, but an increasing number are staying.

Abrahams said his company has quietly moved to help new employees. He noted that Agriprocessors has donated hundreds of pounds of meat to the food pantry, and he said it also has agreed to take smaller rent payments from some people staying in rental housing Agriprocessors owns.

Organizers of a July protest march in Postville asked Agriprocessors to donate $100,000 to a humanitarian fund run by Ouderkirk's church, St. Bridget's. The fund has been used to help former and new employees with basic needs, not including the food bank. Ouderkirk said organizers have been spending about $90,000 per month from the fund. It is nearly empty, the priest said, despite hundreds of thousands of donated dollars from people around the country, including Jewish congregations concerned about the plight of people who worked at the nation's largest kosher meat plant.

At the time of the request, Agriprocessors' leaders said they would consider donating to the fund. Abrahams acknowledged last week that they have not made such a donation, but he said they have helped people in other ways.

Abrahams said the company has become a better employer and community member since the raid. It has increased pay and safety measures, he said, and it now uses a voluntary electronic system to ensure that all new employees are in the United States legally. "We've made a lot of improvement," he said.

Agriprocessors' Housing In Pictures.
Zero Pay Stub 1.
Zero Pay Stub 2.
Agriprocessors From The Inside: A New Worker Talks.

[Hat Tips: rebitzman and Archie.]

Comments

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"Without question, it violates Jewish law and simple human decency."

Even someone sold into slavery to pay back money he stole is required by the master to be given better sleeping arrangements than Sholom Rubashkin has in his own home.

"It is the Judaism of the stereotypical moneylender, the caricature of the greedy Jew that formed the basis for much of the European antisemitism that eventually led to the Holocaust."

Here goes Shmarya with his revisionist Holocaust crap again that makes Nazis proud.

He makes it sound as if the anti-Semites were correct in viewing Jews as greedy.

Jews were forced into moneylending by the Church who closed most other trades and professions to any non-Christians. A consequence of this was Jews becoming wealthy from the interest rates. Anti-Semites become very envious when Jews prosper. Perhaps Shmarya does as well.

--He makes it sound as if the anti-Semites were correct in viewing Jews as greedy.--

No, he is saying that *some* Jews are greedy (just as some individuals in any group are greedy), and that being greedy for all the world to see only reinforces the false stereotype that *all* Jews are greedy. We can't control the prejudices of ignorant people, but it's incumbent upon us not to inflame those prejudices even further.


>>>Here goes Shmarya with his revisionist Holocaust crap again that makes Nazis proud."It is the Judaism of the stereotypical moneylender, the caricature of the greedy Jew…But this time it is real…You simply do not have the ability to read, understand and process simple English sentences, do you, Bunker?

"Last week, dozens of people lined up on the sidewalk outside the storefront food pantry, waiting for volunteers to give them necessities, such as cereal, canned soup, military surplus rations, chicken nuggets and toilet paper."

If they cannot afford toilet paper, why not use copies of "Jewish" newspapers that defend Rubbishcan?

While reading quickly, I actually missed the beginning of the next paragraph of "this time it is real". "Caricature" was part of the Nazi scheme to brainwash the masses.

"why not use copies of "Jewish" newspapers that defend Rubbishcan?"

I suggest that when you are finished wiping yourself, you mail the spent copy of the 5 Towns Jewish Times to their coward staff reporter Yair Hoffman who has been attacking Rubashkin critics under the alias "Ben Nathan".

http://www.kosherimage.com/sbt.html

Belsky of the OU may want to rethink his position. He provides a letter of recommendation for all products of Kosher Image, except for the bathroom tissue at the link here. The thinking over at Rabbi Shain's blog is that Belsky is probably trying to avoid becoming the butt of jokes. But in light of the crisis in Postville, there is a humanitarian concern that should override his reluctance.

Rubbishcan Gory (with apologies to "Richard Cory" by Simon & Garfunkle. Based on a poem by Edward Arlington Robinson).

They say that Mr. Rubbishcan owns one half
of this whole town,
With political connections to spread
his wealth around.
Born into Lubavitch, a schochet going wild,
They had everything a man could want:
power, yichus and gelt.

But I work in his factory
And I curse the life I'm living
And I curse my poverty
And I wish that I could sue,
Oh, I wish that I could sue,
Oh, I wish that I could sue
The Rubbishclan Jews.

The papers print his picture almost
everywhere he strolls:
Rubbishcan at the fabrengen, Rubbishcan
at the shul.
And the rumor of his payola and the
meth lab in his shop!
Oh, he surely must be happy with every illegal he's got.

But I work in his factory
And I curse the life I'm living
And I curse my poverty
And I wish that I could kill,
Oh, I wish that I could kill,
Oh, I wish that I could kill
Rubbishcan shills.

He freely gave to charity, except St. Briget's kitchen,
And they were grateful for his tzedakah, as though he was a magician,
So my mind was filled with wonder when Failed Messiah read:
"Mr. Rubbishcan went home last night and
put a shiksa in his bed."

But I work in his factory
And I curse the life I'm living
And I curse my poverty
And I wish that I could arrest,
Oh, I wish that I could arrest,
Oh, I wish that I could arrest
the Rubbishclan pests.

Mr.Gabbay, the landlord, is definetely both within his rights and normative practicies to demand a deposit and first month rent. Anyone who has ever rented an appartment knows this to be true everywhere.

The only problem with the landlord is that his housing is substandard and overpriced.

The question that is obscured in the article and need to be answered is - why these people don't rent from somebody else, if this option is so bad?

Are these people so unreliable in the eyes of other Potsville landlords that they refuse to rent to them?

Rubashkin & Gabay may own most of the units available for rent and thus the workers are a captive audience. Maybe the locals can enlighten us here.

The question that is obscured in the article and need to be answered is - why these people don't rent from somebody else, if this option is so bad?

The Rubashkins own almost 20% of Postville alone. Gabbay owns a lot, as well.

The entire town only has about 2500 people.

Exactly how many Postville landlords do you think there are?

Past that, the staffing company puts these workers in those houses Gabbay owns.

The workers really don't have much choice.

The Rubashkin family and their henchmen do indeed fall into all the worst stereotypes of Jews.
We are all deeply scarred by history, and sensitive to this day, when we see such behavior from other Jews.
Granted, we ought not all be held accountable for the horrid behavior of a few Jews, but the realities of antisemitism are such that the potential haters find Rubashkin as the perfect fuel for igniting their fire.
Why poke the sleeping bear of antisemitism?
When you wear the black hat, beard, tzizzit, etc., you are representing more than just yourself, whether you realize it or not, whether it's fair or not.
Notice how quickly the Rubashkin propaganda machine likes to cry anitsemitism, blood libels, antishechita, etc. They themselves bring the Jewish issue into the controversy where no one else did.
Furthermore, they know that law enforcement and political forces are always wary of being accused of antisemitism; Rubashkin & Co. cynically manipulate this. Rubashkin has probably been treated with kid gloves as a result.

There are constantly unlawful and immoral actions by Jews that make us shudder. However, how many times do they have the imprimatur of the largest kosher oversight board in the world. I cant think of any.

The historian Marc Shapiro recently mentioned that the concept of Chilul Hashem as well as acting Lifnim Mi-Shurat Ha-Din especially with regards to gentiles seems to have disappeared from the Haredi establishment within the USA. He thinks that being confident in living in a free and tolerant society may have caused this though I suspect that some of the arrogant midos of Israeli Haredim who hold secular Israelis in contempt and have no qualms in taking advantage of them, may have been picked up by USA Haredim.
How come that no one is shocked at the quack legalism used by Rabbis in arguing that what is clearly a hook is not a hook, or the refusal to recognize that the practice of Shecitah is controversial (whatever the law may state) and must be carried out in a manner to minimize any upset to those who are uncomfortable with the practice of killing without stunning. Calling such people Nazis or self hating Jews is unhelpful.

Prior to the 1970's the glatt market was minimal and it was only the withdrawal of OU supervision of regular kashruth which created a market for what was not requested or required. That was done primarily for economic reasons without regard to the fact that this would lead to a 300% increase in Shechita with the great majority of carcasses being sold to non Jews. The Kashrus industry is now suffering the consequences of its hubris. The character deficiency which led to exploitation of the public by introducing the unwanted glatt methods is the character deficiency which allows for the gross exploitation of workers.
As I keep repeating, the glatt industry should be ended and we should return at least to the position of the 1970s even if this means less but more expensive meat. We may have to face the fact that PETA will not go away and we might have to take upon ourselves further restrictions and learn to act Lifnim Mi-Shurat Ha-Din whether in Jewish or American legal standards.

Shmaya's blog is the greatest defense against anti-semitism. It shows that some Jews care not only about themselves but about the world in general.
He has brought the injustices to the view of the general public to ensure that they are stopped. Because of him, Orthodox Rabbis are speaking up to make sure that these practices don't continue without being exposed as against our religion.
If we are ethnocentric, and care only about ourselves at the expense of those less fortunate, then we have the moral low ground if we try and defend ourselves against Anti-Semites for historical and current Jewish actions.

who cares abou them anyway? at least they have a place to sleep. They (and you, Scott) should stop bitching

Archie Bunker: "Even someone sold into slavery to pay back money he stole is required by the master to be given better sleeping arrangements than Sholom Rubashkin has in his own home."

Wrongo, that's only for Jewish slaves (which are really indentured servants and not slave.) Such considerations do not apply to gentile slaves.

Critical is right. Sparky, Carol Ann, and other Gentiles have seen this site and realize that the Jewish community is not monolithic.

To find out just how many properties are owned by Nevel Properties (rubashkin) and Gal Investment (gabay) in the Town of Postville, Iowa, check out the site beaconschneider.com; this web site is a local gov GIS for properties. Once you get in the site, go to Allamakee County, Iowa, and then the City of Postville. Type in the name Nevel Properties and Gal Investments. Perhaps this will answer some of your questions as to "renting from other landlords in the City of Postville"!!!

Add slumlord to the list of embarrassing disclosures that are being exposed by this crusading blog.
How many stereotypical Shandeh's can be included in this one scandal.
The biggest shandeh of them all is that the if you ask most ultra-orthodox Jews they still think the guy in Monsey who sold the non-kosher chickens as Kosher is far worse than the Rubashkins.
They also are mad that Shmarya is driving up the cost of Kosher meat. Instead of thanking him for preventing them from sinning, They choose to attack him for exposing corruption and making Orthodox Jews look bad.
Hopefully we are all learning from the Rubashkin's glaring errors on how to live properly.

About Rubbishcan keeping down the price of kosher meat, the following is with apologies to The Who:

I'd gladly lose meat to fine you
I'd gladly give up all that's Glatt
To fine you, you'll suffer anything and do squat

I'd pay any price just to get you
They [your workers] work all my life with no pay
To skin you I'd stand milchig, starved and stabbed

I'd call that a bargain
'Cause "Aaron's Best" is bad
'Cause "Aaron's Best" is bad

I'd gladly lose meat to fine you
I'd gladly give up phony Glatt
To catch you I'm gonna blog and never stop

I'd pay any price for alternative
Surrender my good money for organic
To fine you I'm gonna liberate an Hispanic [worker]

Rubbishcan's not a bargain
The worst we've ever had
The worst we've ever had

I sit looking 'round
I look at the Rebbe's face in a portrait
I know it's worth nothing without ethics
And like, one chillul Hashem don't make one
One chillul hurts Jews
And you're looking for that free ride to me
The workers are screwed

I'd gladly lose you to find peace
I'd gladly have you close up shop
To catch you, the law will never stop

I'd pay any price for good kashrut
Surrender the OU for hechsher tzedek
To find you I'm gonna do a better bedek

Rubbishcan's not a bargain
The worst we've ever had
'Cause "Aaron's Best" is bad

"only for Jewish slaves"

Even Black or Canaanite slaves are afforded many protections & benefits that would surprise you.

The BeaconSchneider site appears to be down. Is there an alternate?

The rent for these shacks is so out of hand by the greedy Jews in Postville, that Postville now has homeless people living under the railroad bridges near Postville,most likely fired hires of Agri.

Isabel- I have heard this, also, but I don't know how much truth there is to this.
I will see what more I can find out!
sparky

re BeaconSchneider web site. I was able to get into the site okay. Hopefully, once you try again you will be able to get into the site to see the property Nevel and Gal Investments owns.

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