Sharry: Labor Contractor’s Removal of Workers from Plant Due to Safety Concerns Underscores Need for Oversight, Accountability
As the Des Moines Register reported on May 30th [below], Labor Ready, an Iowa labor contracting company, recently pulled its workers from the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant due to safety concerns. These workers were brought in to bolster the meatpacker’s workforce after 390 immigrant laborers were arrested at the plant during the largest worksite immigration raid in U.S. history. Stacey Burke, from Labor Ready’s parent company TrueBlue, cited “a concern on the part of my field operators about the safety and care afforded to our workers” as the reason for ending her company’s stint at Agriprocessors. Burke continued: “We felt as if there was a violation on our core principles.”
Below is a statement from Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, on these developments.
“The fact that replacement workers at Agriprocessors were pulled due to safety concerns just shows that this employer has not learned its lesson. Each new chapter in the Agriprocessors story reads like a modern-day adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. The company’s treatment of workers is criminal, and the fact that the government has so far failed to bring charges against Agriprocessors for violating labor and immigration laws is equally disgraceful.
“Last year, 98% of the Department of Homeland Security’s worksite arrests were of workers, not managers or owners, and only 17 companies were fined for violating immigration law. This year, instead of investigating Agriprocessors’ track record of child labor violations, worker abuse, and health and safety hazards, the Bush Administration has arrested nearly 400 Agriprocessors workers and given their employer a free pass. Congress should heed the example of U.S. Representative Bruce Braley [D-IA] and demand that the Bush Administration hold companies who exploit workers accountable. Congress should also investigate the rampant labor abuses at Agriprocessors that continue even today, and fix our broken immigration system so that undocumented workers can step out of the shadows, assert their labor rights, and be eligible to earn citizenship.”
Labor contractor pulls workers from Agriprocessors
By NIGEL DUARA • REGISTER STAFF WRITER • May 30, 2008
A company hired to provide labor for the Agriprocessors Inc. plant in Postville has pulled out its approximately 150 workers due to safety concerns.
Labor Ready, a Waterloo company that provides non-skilled labor on contract, had had workers at the meat processing plant for about 10 days when it pulled out in the middle of this week, said Stacey Burke of Labor Ready’s parent company TrueBlue.
“There was a concern on the part of my field operators about the safety and care afforded to our workers,” Burke said. “We felt as if there was a violation on our core principles.”
Burke declined to specify what safety violations the field operators observed, but said the company does not have a “one strike and you’re out” violation policy for its work sites. She said the approximately 150 workers were non-skilled labor, but said she didn’t know in what part of the plant they worked.
The Postville meat processing plant was raided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on May 12. Nearly 400 workers were detained in the largest single-site immigration raid in U.S. history.
Agriprocessors Inc. spokesman Jim Fallon did not return calls seeking comment on Friday afternoon.
Burke declined to elaborate on the amount paid to Labor Ready by Agriprocessors, and said the situation between the company and contract laborers “can be remedied.”
In March, the Iowa Division of Labor Services agreed to reduce by three-fourths a fine against the plant for violations of workplace safety regulations.
The agency proposed a fine of $182,000 for 39 violations of workplace safety rules.. The sanctions were based on inspections that took place in October 2007 and February 2008.
Many of the alleged violations related to hazardous chemicals, blood-borne pathogens and what the state called “serious health violations.”
Eight days after the fines were announced, company officials and state labor officials agreed in writing to reduce the fines stemming from 26 of the violations found during the October 2007 inspection.
A week later, state officials and the company agreed to reduce the fines tied to 13 violations found during the February 2008 inspection.
The agreements reduced the amount of fines from $182,000 to $42,750.
Agriprocessors Inc. has a history of noncompliance with state and federal regulations related to food safety, pollution and workplace safety at its Postville facility, government records show. Here are some actions government regulators have taken in the past 2years:
FEBRUARY 2006: U.S. Department of Labor fines the company $2,000 for a serious workplace-safety violation. The fine is later reduced to $1,000. Two weeks later, the plant is fined $2,500 for a serious worker-safety violation involving machinery. That fine is later reduced to $1,250.
MARCH 2006: Agriprocessors is cited for worker-safety violations related to respiratory protection. No fine is imposed.
AUGUST 2006: The company agrees to pay $603,086 to settle a complaint by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Federal prosecutors had accused the owners of discharging pollutants into Postville’s city water treatment system.
SEPTEMBER 2006: The U.S. Department of Agriculture issues a “letter of warning” to the plant, based on failure to meet minimum requirements for sanitary conditions. Rodents had been seen in offices, and other unsanitary conditions were noted outside the plant. The letter noted multiple instances of unsanitary conditions that had gone uncorrected over the previous 90 days.
DECEMBER 2006: USDA inspectors find fecal contamination of chickens being processed. In one case, an inspector has to intervene three times to correct the problem. A day later, an inspector finds that about half the chickens he observes being processed are contaminated with feces and bile. A week later, inspectors note that at least 70 percent of the chickens are contaminated with feces. Two days later, inspectors report finding two pallets of beef that had “a rancid smell and (were) slimy to the touch.” Hydraulic oil is seen dripping from an overhead motor onto raw chickens being processed. A few days later, inspectors see the same problem.
JANUARY 2007: USDA inspectors find “a large amount of fecal and bile contamination” on chickens being processed. Three areas are deemed “out of compliance, with fecal material sprayed everywhere around them.” An inspector halts the meat-processing line and raises the issue with a worker who wanted to restart the line without taking corrective action.
JANUARY 2007: The USDA announces that Agriprocessors is recalling 2,700 pounds of frankfurters because of possible underprocessing.