State of Postville 2 writes:
Open letter to Bernard Feldman, new Agriprocessors CEO
Welcome to Postville. I wish we would have known you were coming a little sooner. We would have had an opportunity to clean things up a little before you arrived. However, as long as you’re here, perhaps you can help us with a little bit of that housecleaning.
I am very encouraged and excited after I read your statements to the Associated Press reporter in the paper yesterday. When you said your appointment will quickly lead to changes, especially in the company's personnel department and its ability to recruit skilled workers for the plant, I became hopeful again. Admittedly, I have lost some hope in the past weeks as I watched new neighbors move into the house next door, only to move out in a couple of days and be replaced by another new group on an almost daily basis.
I have lost hope, too, that I won’t have to pick up beer cans, pop cans and assorted items littering my yard every morning. When the city of Postville used to have residents living here who worked at Agriprocessors for more than a few days at a time, they had some civic pride and didn’t litter my yard, their yard or the streets around town.
I became discouraged when I went to the local convenience store one morning and witnessed one of your new employees berating the poor clerk and calling her a “f***ing redneck” because he couldn’t buy beer at 6 AM. I lost even more hope that day when walking back home from church. A young woman asked me if I had any spare change because she needed to get milk for here children. It seems her husband had received his first check from Agriprocessors after working a 52 hour week, but brought home only $39 and some change because of the deductions from his check.
I hate to ask, but I could use your help should you ever have the time. It is difficult for me to explain to my youngest why it is the young men next door got into a fight and hurt each other. When the ambulance came and took one of them to the hospital, she asked me when he would come home because she wanted to make him a get well card. He never came back. Perhaps you could help her understand.
In your statement to the Associated Press, you also said, "I am independent and I have absolute control in decision-making, I am going to do whatever I think is right and best for the company." Determining what is right has been a pretty clouded issue around here for a long time. In addition to doing what is “right for the company”, I pray you will consider doing what is right for the community as well. Here are a few questions you might consider as you determine what is right.
• Is it right to take so many deductions from your employees checks during their first few weeks of employment they don’t have enough to live on? Is it right to expect our local food bank to provide food to these individuals because Agriprocessors is more concerned about getting their money back than they are about whether or not their employees have food on their tables, if they even have a table?
• Is it right to bring people hundreds or even thousands of miles from their homes for employment here, promising one wage and paying another, lesser wage? Is it right promising them furnished housing and a fresh start and then not delivering on those promises?
• Is it right to expect your employees to live in run-down houses, sometimes with no hot water, leaky pipes, black mold, broken windows, no door locks or any number of problems due to neglect? Is it right to promote that home before prospective employees see it as furnished when all they really have for furnishings is a mattress on the floor in a house they share with 9 or more other Agriprocessor employees?
• When these employees do not work out, is it right to turn them out on the street, without any money or a means to return to their own home?
• Is it right for your contracted labor suppliers to lease the homes for 5 or 6 hundred dollars per month and then charge each one of the 10 people who live there $100 a week?
• Is it right for your contracted labor suppliers to have a hired goon who intimidates and “watches over” the people they bring to the plant for employment? Is it right that this hired goon enters the homes of your employees without knocking to make sure they are at work or ready for work? Is it right that he has the power to indiscriminately fire your employees?
• Is it right that your contracted labor suppliers are still recruiting from homeless shelters in Texas even though they assured us that practice would stop?
Mr. Feldman, I would offer this challenge - spend five days living in one your “dormitory-like” houses before you begin determining what is right for the company. Spend a Friday evening downtown walking up and down the sidewalk and see for yourself the open sales of drugs, see and hear the fights that so often occur, watch as your employees step around the corner of a building downtown, vomit and return to the tavern for another round.
Listen to the carload of local teens as they stop beside the convenience store and ask one of your new employees if they “have any green”.
Stand in line with the people waiting to get into the food bank and ask them why they are there.
Ask questions around town and discover for yourself, the issues affecting the citizens of Postville. It is becoming apparent that the relationship between your company and the city of Postville is parasitic on the part of your company. Your company is feeding off the town and taking out all the things that can make us thrive and grow. We are left to clean up the messes you leave behind.
As the new CEO of Agriprocessors and a new, part-time citizen of Postville, you have clear responsibilities to both. As you decide what is “right for the company”, please try to decide what is right for the community, too.