After reams of negative media attention in the wake of the largest immigration raid in US history, you would think the Rubashkin family would have learned behave in civilized society.
But nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth.
Agriprocessors is now alleged to be abusing its new workers…
…as the JTA reports:
Ex-Agriprocessors Workers Detail Abuse in Wake of Raid
May 29, 2008
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
As the country's largest kosher slaughterhouse scrambles to stay open after a federal raid, former workers at the plant -- many still fearful of retribution from government authorities -- have begun to tell their stories, revealing new details of conditions there.
Agents in the May 12 raid at the Agriprocessors plant in this small northeastern Iowa town arrested 389 illegal workers, among them 18 juveniles.
In recent days, former employees have been painting a picture of a company indifferent to federal laws prohibiting slaughterhouses from employing workers younger than 18, and where workers frequently were pressured to exchange sexual favors for preferred treatment.…
With nearly half its workforce in federal custody -- and many others having fled or afraid to show up to work -- Agriprocessors has struggled since the raid to replenish its ranks.
Workers have been shipped in from around the country, and several former Postville employees say they have been asked to return to work. One ex-worker, who would identify himself only as Jose, said that a female Agriprocessors employee had called his home looking for a man named Miguel. Jose told her that Miguel had been arrested in the raid, but the woman encouraged him to tell his friends that the company was looking to rehire workers.
"She said don't worry about" having the proper papers, said Jose. "You can come to work, and we'll pay in cash."
Agriprocessors also has recruited workers from its plant in Gordon, Neb. -- some 650 miles to the west. John Marshall, 19, had worked in the Gordon plant for six months before boarding an Agriprocessors bus for the 12-hour ride to Postville. At the Iowa plant, he worked 17-hour shifts in several capacities, from flanking on the kill floor to cleaning duties.
Marshall said that the company promised a $200 bonus for coming to Postville, as well as reimbursement for expenses, a place to sleep for free and an hourly wage of $8.25.
After six days, continued Marshall, he wanted to go home, but the company wouldn't pay him anything beyond the $150 he received May 16. Marshall said he has no money to make the return trip to Gordon.
Angelo Morales, 23, who drove himself from Gordon to Postville, said that he was not reimbursed for expenses incurred along the way. He added that he cannot afford gas for the return trip, and is waiting for his girlfriend to send him money to get home.
'Pushing Us to Work Faster'
Meanwhile, former workers at the Postville plant are speaking out about alleged conditions there, often at the prompting of union officials that have flooded the town in the wake of the raid.
A girl who would agree to be identified only as "Yolanda" said that she was 15 when she left her home in Iztapa, Guatemala, late last year and illegally crossed the U.S. border into Texas. Within weeks she had arrived in Postville, where she found work in the Agriprocessors plant.
Yolanda admitted that she produced a fake government ID card that showed her to be 18. She pulled 11-hour graveyard shifts bagging chicken breasts and removing turkey feathers -- difficult work that she said led to a hand injury from the constant use of scissors.
Supervisors routinely pressured the workers to move faster, she said. "They were constantly pushing us and forcing us to work faster," Yolanda said via a translator. "They were very abusive, screaming a lot."
"There was such fear in that community that they were afraid to go talk to anybody," said Kevin Williamson, the international vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
Even as complaints and allegations mounted about the conditions at the Postville plant, the substitute workers brought in from Nebraska described a more positive environment back at the company's factory in Gordon.
Morales said that the Postville plant is far worse than what he experienced in Gordon, where he said supervisors would take the time to explain proper procedures or help out when something went wrong.
In Postville, he added, supervisors only paid attention to the workers when they were taking a break -- to make sure it didn't last too long.
"It's not all rabbis; there are rabbis that are good," said Morales.
"The Jews back home" at the plant in Nebraska, "they're like real people, real good people. But these Jews over here, they're different, real different."
What's the difference between Postville and Gordon, Nebraska?
One major difference is that all the Rubashkins live and work in Postville.
I spoke with a friend close to the Postville scene today. My friend told me stories of sexual extortion, financial extortion, child labor and an abusive workplace, confirming many of the media reports of the past weeks.
My friend also told me that Postville is a near ghost town with few men present and many of the women wearing GPS ankle bracelets.
I heard a story of a pregnant underage worker who was given 20 minutes off to go to her prenatal clinic visits, of 16 year olds working the production line, and of deplorable working conditions and abusive supervisors.
The Lutheran Church has declared Postville a disaster area, just like a town devastated by a natural disaster like a tornado.
If all this is not enough, I was told that Rubashkin is allegedly now running help wanted ads in Guatemalan newspapers.