…seems to be a bilingual workers hotline where workers can, supposedly, anonymously report abuse.
Of course, the problem with that is twofold: First, employees must first trust Martin, who they see as an employee of Agriprocessors, just like the supervisors who abuse them. Second, Martin just announced the hotline Friday, three weeks to the day after he was hired.
Hardly scintillating progress.
Meanwhile, the WFC Courier has a devastating account of Agriprocessors continued abuse of workers:
Safety fears persist in Postville
Workers say little has changed at Agriprocessors meat-packing plant
Sunday, June 29, 2008 9:06 AM CDT
BY JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD, COURIER STAFF WRITER
POSTVILLE --- Despite last month's immigration raid and a federal investigation, workers say Agriprocessors has done little to improve the safety and welfare of its workers.
More than a dozen current and former workers last week reported poor working conditions, low pay and high turnover at the nation's largest kosher meat-processing plant.
Agriprocessors spokesman Chaim Abrahams said the company took steps last week to ensure it complies with all state and federal laws. On Thursday and Friday, he said, a workplace safety compliance expert toured the facility to review its practices.
Many of the complaints workers voiced last week are not new. Over the years, Agriprocessors has left a long trail of workplace safety violations documented by state and federal authorities.
The company was cited in April during testimony before a Senate committee as one of three packing plants in the country with a history of safety problems.
Concerns persisted after the raid on May 12. Labor Ready, a Waterloo company, pulled approximately 150 workers from the plant in late May because of safety concerns.
Jim Martin, a former U.S. attorney hired earlier this month as the company's chief compliance officer, said he spent significant time last week with plant supervisors addressing "workplace health and safety issues."
On Friday he said he notified employees of a toll-free, bilingual tip line they can call to report any concerns anonymously.
"I am very comfortable we're making great progress on safety issues," Martin said.
The actions came too late to convince Derrick Howard to stay on the job. Standing last week amidst "Now Hiring" signs on the plant's lawn, Howard, 32, waited to begin the 50-hour journey home to Amarillo, Texas.
A veteran of the industry, he said he expected the back-breaking labor. What he didn't anticipate, he said, was the company's disregard for his personal safety.
For nearly a month, Howard pushed frozen carcasses that each weighed several hundred pounds on a chain without a safety belt to protect his back.
"To me, they don't think about your physical (health); you can actually hurt yourself," he said. "I think they're more worried about production than their people."
A half-dozen current and former employees, all with previous meat-packing experience, said they have never worked at a plant that provides such inadequate training and then asks workers to perform duties for which they weren't trained.
After three weeks on the job, Rene Lopez sat near the plant's entrance waiting to join Howard on the trip home.
Lopez, 37, said supervisors yelled at workers who butchered the meat for not keeping up with the pace of the production line. He said the task proved impossible, with so few workers and so little training.
The plant operated two shifts before the raid, but workers say Agriprocessors struggles to adequately staff just one. Federal officials arrested 390 workers last month, nearly half the workforce, on illegal immigration and identity theft charges. Despite an intense recruitment effort, workers say turnover remains high.
Lopez, who speaks only Spanish, said new workers were never trained on how to properly cut meat, or even how to sharpen a knife.
"Without proper training, how can we keep up with production?" he said.
He made the long trip north, he said, because recruiters in Texas promised him $16 an hour based on previous experience. When he arrived, company officials told him the pay would start at $10 an hour.
Lopez said he grew concerned about his new job before he set foot in Agriprocessors. Upon his arrival, former workers warned him of the conditions inside the plant.
He said he plans to return to Texas for a similar job that pays $14 an hour, and, he hopes, better working conditions.
"They asked why I was leaving. I told them they don't pay well, and it was too hard work," he said.
Many complaints, workers say, center on sales pitches made by employment agencies in Texas. They said recruiters promised monthly rent around around $120, wages significantly higher than $10 an hour and other perks. Landlords in town say they never made such offers.
Advertisements posted online and in newspapers by the company offer to pay $10 an hour or more, based on experience.
Abrahams, the Agriprocessors spokesman, said the company is looking into the allegations.
"We have specifically sought out labor companies with reputations for honesty and integrity," he said.
The recruiter, Jacobson Staffing in Des Moines, has subcontracted with recruiting companies in Texas. Marty Howard, vice president of administration and general counsel for the company, declined to comment.
Those who can find better-paying jobs in Texas often decide to return home. Jose Quintanilla said he plans to stay, despite what he considers substandard working and living conditions. With no money, he said, he has no choice but to keep working.
"If I lose this job, how the hell am I going to get home?" he said.
Quintanilla hopes to make Postville home because the pay raise could mean a better life for his family. For years he worked temporary jobs for minimum wage in McAllen, Texas, a border city.
He hopes to bring his family to the town. But for now his wife and young child live with his mother-in-law in Texas.
Quintanilla said when he made the trip to Iowa, he was led to believe by a recruiter that he would pay $120 a month for a fully furnished home or apartment and receive enough cash in loans to cover expenses until his first paycheck, which arrived two weeks after his first day of work.
Instead, he and eight other workers pay more than $2,000 a month to rent a home --- $225 per person --- and share four rooms and a large walk-in closet.
While giving a tour of the house, at 269 Post St., he pointed out mold in the bathroom, broken window screens and a patio screen door with no lock. He noted they spent hours cleaning the home. When he first arrived, he said, garbage littered the front porch and rotten food was in the kitchen.
The landlord, Gabay Menahem, owner of Gal Investments, said the rent provides new workers a place to stay while they look for reliable roommates to join them on a long-term lease. The price includes all utilities and maintenance, and allows workers to pay a fixed rent even if a worker decides to suddenly leave town. After they find roommates, he said, they can sign a standard lease and move into a home or apartment with cheaper rates.
Menahem said he rents out homes in poor condition out of necessity. The raid left him with more than 100 vacant units, and he has not been able to fix up every home before someone moves in.
"People come begging me for a house, and I tell them it's not ready yet," he said. "But they're begging me for it. So what do I do? Do I let them sleep in the street?"
The men fill their refrigerator with basics. The cartons of eggs, tortillas, margarine, mayonnaise, onions, lettuce and bologna would barely fill one rack of a refrigerator.
To ensure they have enough money for food, many do not buy sheets, pillows or blankets, much less any furniture. Used to a warmer climate, Quintanilla and others say they shiver through the nights.
At work, Quintanilla works in a freezer, a job he has performed at other meat-packing plants. Unlike previous employers, he said, Agriprocessors provides him only thin cotton gloves, and no boots or a jumpsuit. So he wears a pair of boots he bought at Wal-Mart to at least keep his feet warm during his 12-hour shift.
"My feet are frozen, my hands are frozen," he said. "We don't have anything; no money, we're just working. We were just talking about how we feel like prisoners."
Gal Investments was busy evicting workers' families after the May ICE raid. Gaby Menahem's stated reason for those evictions? To make room for the new workers coming in. Like the Rubashkin family that owns Agriprocessors, Menahem is a Chabad hasiid.
To get an idea of how high Menahem's rents are, a room in a nice house in the Highland Park area of Saint Paul costs $300. That includes all utilities and often includes cable and high speed Internet. A four bedroom home rents for $1500 to $2000 per month, depending on location and amenities. A $300,000 home in Highland Park would sell for about $50,000 in Postville (perhaps even less).
What is Gaby Menahem?
Like the Rubashkin's who own Nevel Properties, Menahem is a slumlord.
Jim Martin vouched for the employment agencies Agriprocessors hired. Yet it is clear these agencies lied to prospective Agri employees, as did Agriprocessors.
Agriprocessors still does not properly train its workforce. It does not outfit its workers with proper safety equipment and protective clothing. In a brutal industry, Agriprocessors is a bully.
It is a form of modern slavery, run by Chabad hasidim. The hechsher on this slavey comes from the OU, Rabbi Weissmandal, United Mehadrin Kosher, Chabad, and anyone who purchases Rubashkin meat.
Jim Martin may have come into this with good intentions. But his name and reputation are being used to cover for some of the worst worker abuse in modern American history. And that is how history will remember Jim Martin.
As for Rubashkin's new PR agency, 5W Public Relations, it makes it money defending the indefensible. If 5W had existed 150 years ago, it would have taken as clients plantation owners and slave traffickers.
In the PR business, much like in today's Orthodox rabbinate, it is money – not truth, not ethics and not morality – that matters.
[Hat Tip: Formerly Frum.]