Jens Krogstad • Des Moines Register blog post
12:13 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — An attorney who represented Agriprocessors said the kosher slaughterhouse did not knowingly hire minors, and the state department of labor refused to provide the names of underage workers it had discovered before a May 12, 2008 immigration raid.
State prosecutors presented an e-mail that showed Sholom Rubashkin was aware of child labor investigations by state and federal officials.
Mary Funk, who represented Agriprocessors in 2007 and 2008, said she repeatedly asked for the names of the alleged underage workers because Agriprocessors wanted to fire them. However, she said an attorney with the state told her she could not because the investigation was ongoing.
Defense attorney F. Montgomery Brown suggested the state refused to supply the names because it planned a “big bust” with “big fines.”
Funk confirmed she wrote a letter to the state labor department in February 2008 that said Agriprocessors does not “knowingly hire any employees under the age of 18.”
Funk said she wrote the statement because Agriprocessors human resources manager Elizabeth Billmeyer told her that was the policy of the kosher slaughterhouse.
Billmeyer also said that during the application process she asked for a driver’s license if she questioned their age, and would then ask for a birth certificate, Funk testified.
Funk said Billmeyer asked her what she should do if she discovered minors at the plant. She advised the company to fire them.
However, former workers who said they were minors while employed at Agriprocessors have often testified over the past several weeks that they were never asked for a driver’s license.
Assistant Iowa Attorney General Laura Roan argued the company had a month to supply the personnel files of the names and failed to do so.
Funk said it appeared federal and state labor investigators were sharing information about their child labor investigations.
In an e-mail dated April 2008, Sholom Rubashkin wrote that requests for information from the two departments need “some explanation,” and asked the opinion of his attorney.
“Does this accurately reflect the defendant’s involvement on issue?” Roan said.
“I can’t honestly say how involved he was with anything else. All I can say is that my oral communications were with Elizabeth Billmeyer on this subject,” Funk replied.
10:40 a.m., Waterloo, Ia. — Agriprocessors plant manager Garry Norris testified Wednesday that two supervisors never warned him about minors at the plant.
“The only time I was aware of minors was when I was informed someone was discovered and terminated,” he said.
He described one supervisor who testified otherwise, Mark Spangler, as an alcoholic. He called the other, Matthew Derrick, lazy. He said those qualities ultimately cost the two, whom were roommates while at Agriprocessors, their jobs.
“Are you certain that conversation did not happen?” said Deputy Iowa Attorney General Thomas H. Miller, referring to a discussion with Spangler about minors at the plant.
“Yes, I am,” Norris replied.
Norris said Sholom Rubashkin, who is facing 83 misdemeanor child labor charges, served as CEO and vice president of the kosher slaughterhouse in Postville.
Part of his duties included overseeing the finance and human resources departments, Norris said.
Norris said Rubashkin sometimes walked the plant floor.
Spangler and Derrick — as well as a third supervisor, Brian Griffith – have testified it was easy to identify minors by walking the plant floor.
However, Norris repeatedly testified that it was difficult for him to tell the ages of people.
Norris hunched over and spoke in a flat voice. He appeared to become annoyed with some questions from the prosecutor, and the two briefly started talking over each other.
Black Hawk County District Associate Judge Nathan Callahan stopped the proceedings and warned them to wait for the other to finish speaking.
After the jury left the room, Miller apologized to the judge. Callahan called him a skilled lawyer, but said his job was to control the courtroom.
“If you pick up a sword and fight with me, you’re going to get a sword fight,” Callahan said.
The next witness will be Mary Funk, a lawyer specializing in employment and labor law at the Nyemaster Good law firm in Des Moines.
9:05 a.m., Waterloo, Ia. — The defense’s first witness is former Agriprocessors plant manager Gary Norris. He’s been mentioned a few times by supervisors who said they told him about minors at the plant.
He’s now a manager at Agristar, the successor of Agriprocessors.
The Courier's report:
Manager says he didn't know minors were at Agriprocessors
By JEFF REINITZ • Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier
WATERLOO --- A former operations manager at Agriprocessors disputed claims that other workers told him there were minors working at the Postville meatpacking plant.
Gary Norris, 59, who now works for Agri Star, was the defense's first witness in the trial of former Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin.
Rubashkin is charged with 83 counts of child labor violation in state court. He also is awaiting sentencing on federal fraud charges in connection with loans the slaughterhouse received.
Norris told jurors Mark Spangler, a supervisor at the plant, never told him about concerns that underage workers were on the floor at Agriprocessors.
Spangler had been a prosecution witness earlier in the trial and testified that Norris said "what do you expect, they are a bunch of kids" when he approached Norris about worker behavior.
Norris also testified about giving a tour of the plant to labor inspectors in April 2008, a month before the immigration raid.
Earlier, state witnesses told jurors that supervisor Jeff Heasley told people to hide workers who looked underage on the day of the tour.
But Norris told jurors that he himself didn't know the reason labor inspectors were in the plant --- to look for possible minors --- until after the tour.
He said the only time he heard about underage employees was when a human resources employee had identified one worker as a minor and fired her.
Under cross-examination, Norris identified Rubashkin as the company's CEO and said finance and human resources reported to him.
Norris said it was difficult to judge the ages of workers. He said many were from Guatemala and were short in stature. He also noted they were dressed in warm clothing and in safety gear that made them look like the "Michelin Man" when they worked.
"It is difficult for me to determine the age of anyone," Norris said.