JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD • Des Moines RegisterWaterloo, Ia. - Former Agriprocessors manager Garry Norris on Wednesday disputed the testimony of two former plant supervisors and said the men were fired for alcoholism and laziness.
The two had testified at Rubashkin's child labor trial that they told Norris about minors at the plant.
"The only time I was aware of minors was when I was informed someone was discovered and terminated," Norris testified Wednesday.
Rubashkin, a former Agriprocessors Inc. executive, faces 83 misdemeanor child labor charges.
The defense called its first full day of witnesses on Wednesday. Several testified they never observed underage workers during unannounced visits to the plant, while others said they had difficulty determining the laborers' ages by sight.
On Wednesday, Norris described one supervisor, Mark Spangler, as an alcoholic. He called the other, Matthew Derrick, lazy. He said those qualities ultimately cost the pair their jobs.
Mary Funk, a former attorney for Agriprocessors, said she attempted to obtain the names of underage workers identified by the state labor department in early 2008 because the company wanted to fire them. But the department refused, citing an ongoing investigation, she said.
Defense attorney F. Montgomery Brown suggested the state refused to supply the names because it planned a "big bust" with "big fines."
The state alleges Rubashkin allowed minors to work excessive hours at the plant and work around dangerous machinery and poisonous chemicals.
Part of Rubashkin's duties as chief executive and vice president included overseeing the human resources department, which made hiring decisions, one former manager said.
However, another manager said the Rubashkin family's lack of business experience resulted in an informal and dysfunctional management structure.
Chaim Abrahams said this meant that the human resources manager, Elizabeth Billmeyer, usually reported to Sholom's brother, Heshy.
The brothers sometimes argued about how to run the company, he said.
Heshy Rubashkin ran the day-to-day operations, while Sholom carried two phones and juggled duties ranging from managing a second kosher plant in Nebraska to resisting unionization efforts, Abrahams said.
"Sholom Rubashkin used to scream every week, 'We have too many people. Payroll is too big,' " he testified.
But Heshy Rubashkin usually got his way because he was "stronger, more aggressive, more demanding," Abrahams said.
Abrahams said he was surprised when he first heard the allegations several years ago of minors working at the plant.
Billmeyer bragged to him sometime in 2008 about locating and firing several workers for being under 18, he said.
"It sounded more like one of those tricks the union might be pulling on us," he said.
The state presented evidence to show that workers did not always sign federal employment verification forms, and that Billmeyer delegated face-to-face meetings with applicants to others.
Prosecutors also produced an e-mail from a manager complaining to Billmeyer about a worker who weighed less than 100 pounds. The manager wrote: "What are we supposed to do with him? Is this some kind of joke?"
Billmeyer instructed another manager not to send "4-foot, 80-pound" children anymore. "I don't have a problem breaking men, but I do have a problem breaking children," she wrote.