JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD • Des Moines RegisterWaterloo, Ia. - With child labor inspectors scheduled to tour Agriprocessors several years ago, Brian Griffith had his marching orders, he testified Monday.
He said he grabbed his two youngest-looking workers off the line and hid them in the basement.
Griffith said in the child labor trial of former plant executive Sholom Rubashkin that he did so under orders from his supervisor, a forceful, intimidating man named Jeff Heasley. Heasley faces child labor charges in a separate trial.
Griffith said he also signed a document that said there didn't appear to be any workers under 18, less than a month before a May 12, 2008, immigration raid at the plant. He listed below his signature the name of one of the workers whom he hid in the basement because he appeared to be young.
The jury scribbled notes as Griffith said he once talked to his supervisor about underage workers at the plant. He said he never brought the issue up again after he was told "this is the way things are, and this is the way it will stay."
Mario Roberto Perez Marroquin was the employee Griffith allegedly sent into the basement and listed on the document.
Monday marked the second full week of worker testimony for the prosecution in Rubashkin's trial. The state alleges Rubashkin allowed minors to work excessive hours and around dangerous machinery and chemicals.
Perez Marroquin said he held a summer job for two years at Agriprocessors, just a few blocks from his high school.
Like all the underage workers at the plant who have testified, he said he lied about his age and used false documents to obtain employment to support his impoverished family.
The Guatemalan hauled heavy barrels of cattle remains that smeared his frock with blood, and filled his nose with the stench of slaughtered beef. Several of his classmates also held jobs at the plant in 2006 and 2007, he said.
During the school year, Perez Marroquin played soccer for the Postville High School Pirates. He once showed off his ball-handling skills at a school assembly for a yearbook photo.
Perez Marroquin said his most serious accident at Agriprocessors occurred when he caught an over-sized frock on a machine that sealed beef containers, and narrowly avoided severing his hand.
"It started dragging me, but I pulled really hard and freed myself," he said through an interpreter.
He later took a job at the plant full-time because it paid better than his previous jobs. After the raid, he returned to school. He recently graduated from Postville High School, he said.
Perez Marroquin was one of several witnesses who described dangerous conditions inside the plant.
The fingers on Gerardo Solovi Perez's right hand caught on a conveyor belt one day while working at Agriprocessors.
Before the power-driven belt could rip them off, a friend turned the machine off and freed him.
The Guatemalan was still a minor when he started deboning chicken legs and packaging meat at the plant.
He said the worst injury he saw was when another minor at the plant cut the tips of his fingers off with a saw.
Female workers in the laundry area - the unofficial nursing office - bandaged his middle, ring and pinky fingers and put a large glove around it to keep it from getting wet and infected, he said. Then he returned to work.
"They sent me back upstairs because they said the wounds I had weren't serious enough to go to the doctor," Perez testified.
The prosecution said it plans to call its final witnesses today. The defense will begin making its case Wednesday.