And it gets worse from there, as…
… the AP reports:
Kosher meats firm cited for child labor violations
By HENRY C. JACKSON and AMY LORENTZEN
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Labor Commissioner's Office said Tuesday that it has uncovered dozens of child labor violations at the nation's biggest supplier of kosher meat.
Labor officials said their investigation, which spanned several months, uncovered 57 cases of child labor law violations at the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, where nearly 400 workers were arrested this spring in the largest immigration enforcement operation in U.S. history.
The types of violations included minors working in prohibited occupations, exceeding allowable hours for youth to work, failure to obtain work permits, exposure to hazardous chemicals and working with prohibited tools.
"The investigation brings to light egregious violations of virtually every aspect of Iowa's child labor laws," Dave Neil, Iowa Labor Commissioner, said in a statement. "It is my recommendation that the attorney general's office prosecute these violations to the fullest extent of the law."
Juda Engelmayer, an Agriprocessors spokesman, declined to comment.
Federal immigration agents arrested 389 illegal-immigrant workers, mostly Guatemalans, in a May 12 raid at the Agriprocessors plant. Most of the arrested workers pleaded guilty within a week and are serving sentences in federal prisons outside Iowa before being deported.
Allegations of child labor violations were included in an initial affidavit and a search warrant that led to the raid at Agriprocessors, which also operates a plant near Gordon, Neb. Under Iowa law, it is illegal for children under the age of 18 to work in meatpacking plants.
A spokeswoman for Iowa Workforce Development, the agency that oversees the labor commission, said the number of violations is much larger than what is typically found in the state of Iowa.
"Typically, when we have child labor issues it's an issue of one or two individuals," said spokeswoman Kerry Koonce. "From our point of view, with this investigation, it's a large-scale violation of the law."
Koonce said the full report was not being made public because it is a part of a criminal investigation.
Labor officials say the child labor violations would normally be turned over to the county attorney's office, but in this case will most likely be handed over the Iowa attorney general at the county's request.
The attorney general's office said it could not comment on what penalties are possible, and state officials declined to release details on how many children may be involved or their ages.
Several underage workers who said they were employed at the plant have spoken out since the raid about their experiences.
At a meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus last month in Postville, 17-year-old Noel Castillo Ordonez said he had worked long hours at the plant to support his family in Guatemala.
"I needed money for my family, because I could not help them," he said in Spanish.
At the same meeting, 17-year-old Gilda Yolanda Ordonez Lopez openly wept as she described being forced to work shifts as long as 12 hours with no overtime pay.
"They asked me how old I was, and I told them the truth," Lopez said.
Sister Mary McCauley of St. Bridget's Catholic Church in Postville has been working closely with the workers' families. She said she was "heartsick" over the stories of child labor violations that she heard after the raid.
"My first response is it doesn't surprise me because of all that I have heard," she said Tuesday. "Therefore, I am grateful that this was brought to the attention of the proper authority and my hope would be that some sanctions would be taken because I do think that these young children were not treated with respect and they should not have been there in the first place."
State labor officials say they are still investigating some wage violations at the plant.
The official statement from the State of Iowa and Agriprocessors' response follow:
Agriprocessors’ Child Labor Investigation Complete
Turned Over to Iowa Attorney General’s Office for Prosecution
DES MOINES – The Iowa Labor Commissioner’s Office has completed an intensive child labor investigation at Agriprocessors, Inc. in Postville. The investigation, which spanned several months, has produced 57 cases, with multiple child labor violations in each case. A second portion of the investigation is still pending which may lead to additional cases.
“The investigation brings to light egregious violations of virtually every aspect of Iowa’s child labor laws,” indicated Dave Neil, Iowa Labor Commissioner. “It is my recommendation that the Attorney General’s Office prosecute these violations to the fullest extent of the law.”
Agriprocessors alleged violations include working minors in prohibited occupations, failure to obtain work permits, exceeding the allowable hours to work youth, exposure to hazardous chemicals, working with prohibited tools and others. Iowa’s child labor laws indicate that every day during which a violation of the chapter continues, shall constitute a separate and distinct offense.
Under Iowa Law, child labor investigations are turned over to the county attorney’s office for prosecution, however the county may choose to turn the case(s) over to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. The Allamakee County Attorney’s Office had previously indicated to the department their desire to turn the case directly over to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.
The Labor Commissioner’s Office is still in process of conducting an investigation into general wage violations at the Postville plant.
STATEMENT BY AGRIPROCESSORS
Postville, Iowa 5:00 p.m. August 5, 2008…Agriprocessors is at a loss to understand the Iowa Labor Commissioner’s referral and press release of today on the issue of alleged child labor at Agriprocessors. As the government knows, it is Agriprocessors’ policy not to hire underage workers, and to terminate any employees who are determined to be under 18 years of age. In fact, in 2007, Agriprocessors terminated four employees whom it determined were underage and had provided false documents in order to obtain employment.
The Company has cooperated with the government throughout its investigation, providing documents and opening its plant and its records to government inspection. In early 2008, government inspectors came to the Postville plant, looked for underage workers, identified two youthful looking employees for further investigation, investigated their background and ultimately allowed the employees to return to work. At no time did the government identify to the company any violations.
When the government told Agriprocessors in April 2008 that it knew that underage employees were working at the Postville plant, Agriprocessors repeatedly requested that the government identify those workers so that the company could terminate them. The Iowa Labor Commissioner’s Office refused. As a result of the government’s decision, apparently those children may have continued to work at the plant and presumably at least some were arrested in the May 12 ICE enforcement action.
The government now has seen fit to issue a press release alleging child labor law violations. The government’s press release does not state that the company knowingly hired underage workers. The company asks the public to keep an open mind and wait for the evidence before making any judgments about these, or any other, allegations.
UPDATE: The New York Times is reporting that, if convicted Agriprocessors fines could be in excess of $500,000 – perhaps as high as $1 million:
…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.
Child labor violations are criminal misdemeanors in Iowa, carrying fines of no more than about $600. But Ms. Koonce said each violation was a separate offense each day that it occurred. Many of the minors worked at Agriprocessors for at least a year, she said.
At least 24 under-age workers, as young as 13, were arrested in the raid in May. Others who were not caught in the morning raid because they worked at night stopped going to jobs at the plant.…
…Iowa law requires employers to make an extra effort to determine the date of birth of workers who could be minors, including asking for a birth certificate or other official proof of age, labor officials said.…
Do the math. 24 arrested. 57 total. 33 underaged workers were not arrested because they worked the overnight shift.
This does not look good for Agriprocessors.
[Hat Tips: State of the Jews, the other DK, Yochanan Lavie, Mark, Steve, Bernice & UOJ. Thank you all!]