Our friends at Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa are in the news again for a couple of worker-related stories. In the first, a large group of Rubashkin employees were told their Social Security numbers did not match up with Federal records. The employees promptly staged a walkout that only ended after Rabbi Sholom M. Rubashkin, the CEO, urged employees to return to work. To do this, Rabbi Rubashkin used a Spanish-speaking interpretor.
Rubashkin is notorious for not only employing illegal aliens but for recruiting them, as well. It remains to be seen whether these employees are illegals.
There have been persistent allegations dating back years of Rubashkin shorting workers paychecks, withholding but not paying Social Security tax, and other forms of theft. Which brings us to the second item in today's Rubashkin post. Rubashkin is alleged to have refused to pay employees for preparation time, including time spent on safety:
…Agriprocessors also faces a federal lawsuit filed March 27. In it, 23 former and current employees claim the company has not paid them for preparation time for the last two years. The employees are seeking a class-action lawsuit that could affect up to 1,500 workers.
The employees say Agriprocessors did not pay for the time required to change into safety equipment or to clean and sanitize equipment and knives and to perform many other activities integral to the packing plant's operation. The lawsuit also alleges employees were required to continue working, even after compensation stopped to finish daily production and clean work areas.
"Despite its knowledge that time spent by plaintiffs and class members ... was compensable time under state and federal law, defendant Agriprocessors has refused to fully compensate workers at their Postville, Iowa, facility for any of this time," the lawsuit alleges.
Agriprocessors follows a policy used widely in the meat packing industry known as "gang time" or "line time," and employees are paid only for hours spent on the production line, according to the lawsuit.
The workers getting dressed or preparing for work can take up to 35 minutes each day, the suit says.
Rubashkin said the company is aware of the complaint but found no merit to the claims.…
I suspect the real issue here is the unpaid time spent sanitizing equipment.
Do some other packing plants also short workers this way? Yes they do. Why? Because, under the current administration in Washington, they can get away with it. Lack of Federal enforcement of existing law – especially in this corruption-ridden administration – does not mean Jews should take advantage of employees.
Of course, the idea of doing business in kind fashion – a Torah ideal – is not on the front burner of Orthodox Judaism. It's kosher supervising agencies look the other way as workers are abused. (This is not simply a case of "let him do what he wants to the goyyim." I know of cases involving Jews working as kosher supervisors being shorted by Rubashkin, and the rabbis did not stand up for them, either.)
I think the point is that, somewhere along the line, probably about the time the Hatam Sofer injected a new, foreign rigidity into Judaism, stressing severe interpretations of ritual laws, the laws governing what Jews do to other Jews and to non-Jews began to take a back seat in importance.
We see the fruition of this today, when rabbis like the head of OU Kosher, Rabbi Menachem Genack, can say with a straight face that the many things we always relied on the government for (i.e., labeling laws, etc.) cannot be relied on now, yet at the same time claim that stealing from workers and other forms of worker mistreatment – all forbidden biblically – are better left to the government to enforce. In other words, many rabbinic laws and simple humrot are so important the government cannot be trusted, but biblical laws regarding worker abuse? In an administration with close to zero enforcement? That we can rely on the government to deal with.
Another way to look at this is to follow the money. The OU gets paid for every extra humra it enforces. No one pays to have employee halakha enforced. One can easily make the case that, for the OU and other kosher supervising agencies and rabbis that run them, it all comes down to money in their pockets.
And that is just another of many reasons why Orthodox Judaism is failing.