Groups Call for Congressional Hearings to Investigate Worker Abuse at the Plant
Leading immigration and labor experts joined forces today to express their outrage that the employer responsible for hiring and abusing immigrant workers in Postville, Iowa has been charged with nothing while the immigrant workers themselves face detention and felony charges. According to the experts, Agriprocessors is a poster child for how the Bush Administration’s current immigration enforcement strategy gives cover to unscrupulous employers who consistently violate labor and immigration laws while targeting the immigrant workers they exploit. They call on Congress to hold examine the way our broken immigration system is being used by unscrupulous employers to exploit workers for profit, and the Bush Administration’s failure to properly enforce labor laws in workplaces across the country.
“Agriprocessors used our nation’s broken immigration system to exploit its workers and to game the American people,” said Mark Lauritsen, International Vice President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). “It is shameful, and it should offend every American that this company has repeatedly and flagrantly violated our nation’s labor and environmental laws, including hiring children to work in a slaughterhouse. Their actions drive down wages and working conditions for all Americans, and they must be held accountable.”
Agriprocessors, the nation’s largest Kosher meatpacking plant, has a particularly infamous record, including child labor violations, instances of grotesque physical abuses of employees by supervisors, and numerous health and safety violations. Additionally, the Des Moines Register reports that some former employees are now coming forward with revelations about supervisor demands for sexual favors at the plant. Despite this track record, and despite the arrest of 400 plant employees in the May 12th raid for working without legal status, the employers have been charged with nothing. In fact, they are busy hiring replacement workers.
According to Frank Sharry, the Executive Director of the immigration reform group America’s Voice, this imbalanced approach to immigration law enforcement is consistent with the Bush Administration’s record if not its rhetoric. In 2007, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said, “The days of treating employers who violate laws by giving them the equivalent of a corporate parking ticket – those days are gone. It’s now felonies, jail time, fines, and forfeitures.” And yet, despite the fact that there are some 6 million employers in the United States and an estimated 7 million undocumented workers in the labor force, in 2007 DHS fined a grand total of 17 employers. During that same year, 98% of all worksite arrests were of employees, not employers.
Said Sharry, “Something is seriously wrong when a company with the egregious track record of Agriprocessors gets a free pass while their employees and employees’ families pay a steep price. What’s the strategy behind it? Congress should hold hearings to find out. The prospect of letting Agriprocessors off the hook undermines what should be a commitment to the even-handed enforcement of the rule of law. The idea of scaring immigrant workers and families into leaving the country is both impractical and repugnant. It’s time for leaders to lead. The best way to deal with illegal immigration is combine a strong crackdown on unscrupulous employers with immigration and labor law enforcement, combined with a way for easy-to-exploit immigrant workers to get legal so they can become fully enfranchised and stand up for themselves against bad actor employers.”
Iowa Bishop Gregory Palmer of the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church also issued a statement condemning the Agriprocessors raid and its impact on the lives and families of those detained. Bishop Palmer also called for the creation of “a just and comprehensive immigration policy, one that will fully incorporate the undocumented among us into the life of this nation in ways that validate their humanity and affirm the many ways in which they contribute and enrich our culture here in Iowa, and our nation as a whole.”
For more details on Agriprocessors, including background information on their past history of violations, see http://www.eyeonagriprocessors.org/