More than two weeks have passed since the federal government launched
an immigration raid — the largest single-site raid in American history
– against Agriprocessors in Postville, yet many Iowans and plant
employees continue to point to documents filed in the lead up as well
as personal stories following the raid and wonder what might make news
headlines in the weeks to come.
"I’m confused and I am sad that nothing has
been done to this company," said 33-year-old Juanita, speaking through
a translator in Marshalltown on Wednesday. "So many families were
broken as a result of this raid. So many were charged by the
government. It is bad that only those most poor and vulnerable get
charged while a company with deep pockets gets nothing."
Juanita, who came to this country from Petapa, Guatemala said she
worked at the Postville plant on the chicken production line. She was
assigned to work graveyard shift and, although she had asked for a
promotion or shift change, she was refused.
"My supervisor, who was also from Guatemala, tried to force himself
on me in the parking lot in my car after I had asked for a job change,"
she said. "When I pushed him off me I began to hear that I was not
working hard enough or fast enough. I am a good worker. I did my job
well. It was because I would not have sex with him that I was pushed so
hard. He told me that I could always change my mind and that, if I did,
he would put in a good word for me."
No longer working at the plant, Juanita and her 16-year-old sister,
who did not wish to be interviewed, are trying to decide what they will
"I don’t know where we will end up or what we will do," she said.
The story of sexual coercion is echoed by Jenaro Rucal, who says he
went to work at Agriprocessors after purchasing fake documents at the
age of 13.
"My girlfriend was 16 when she came to work at the plant," he said
in a telephone interview Friday morning. "I had a fight with the
supervisor because he told my girlfriend that she could get ‘perks’ if
he got ‘perks’ from her."
In addition to the personal stories that have come out in the days
following the raid, documents filed by Immigration and Customs
Enforcement outline a scheme that involved the purchase and
registration of automobiles. An unnamed plant supervisor worked with a
Cedar Rapids car dealership to provide vehicles to what was believed to
be undocumented workers. The dealership would purchase specific makes
and models at car auctions and provide them to the plant supervisor,
who would then sell the vehicles to workers.
Although the documents do not indicate the amount of money charged
for the vehicles, Rucal said he purchased a Ford from his supervisor
for $3,500 after the supervisor promised to grant preferred working
conditions for Rucal’s mother, a worker who was detained in the
immigration raid and subsequently released to care for children.
"Just as a matter of policy, we don’t comment on any ongoing
investigation," said Tim Counts, spokesman for the Department of
Homeland Security, when asked if stories of sexual exploitation now
being told by former plant employees have been validated by government
officials. "But, as I think any law enforcement agency would say, if
anybody believes they are a victim of a crime, they should immediately
report that to the appropriate authorities."
Such responses, while truthful, have been both commonplace and
frustrating for those attempting to determine how much cooperation is
taking place between federal agencies, between now criminally-convicted
former plant workers, as well as between federal and state agencies.
Company representatives have also been closed mouthed when it comes to
the raid or any of the myraid of ongoing investigations in relation to
the plant. Requests made to Jim Fallon, spokesman for Agriprocessors,
have continued to go unanswered.
"Those who knowingly employ or supervise illegal aliens, knowing
their unlawful status, are able to exploit illegal aliens because
illegal aliens are unlikely to contact authorities for fear they will
be arrested and/or deported," wrote David Hoagland, senior special
agent with ICE, in the affidavit for a search warrant of
Agriprocessors. "Exploitation can take on many forms, such as requiring
employees to provide money or other things of value to maintain
employment or secure better working hours or tasks, providing sub-par
working conditions, failing to pay overtime, and physically harassing
or mistreating employees."
The 60-page document includes the testimony of several current and
former Agriprocessors employees as they describe instances of
exploitation and/or coercion.A former plant supervisor said that there
was an active methamphetamine lab in the plant and that weapons were
carried on-site by employees. The documents also tell the story of an
undercover source in the plant. The source had his/her apartment rent
raised several times during the course of employment at Agriprocessors,
witnessed a floor supervisor place duct tape the eyes of a Hispanic
worker before striking that same worker with a meat hook, and was
personally pushed by a different floor supervisor.
Such allegations have prompted the Orthodox Jewish community
throughout the nation to pause and consider not only the physical, but
also the spiritual calling associated with kosher products.
"We need to be in a world where we can say that keeping kosher is
the way in which I demonstrate not only my concern for my relationship
to God and Torah, but the Jewish concern for our relationship to the
world in which we live," wrote Rabbi Morris Allen, who has been
instrumental in calling for Hekhsher Tzekek, or an additional seal on kosher products that would reflect production benchmarks consistent with Jewish ethical standards.
Rabbi Harold Kravitz of Minnesota was part of a group visiting
Postville this week so that he could see for himself if the things he
was reading about were true.
"We spent hours hearing about appalling working conditions and the
abuses that have taken place at Agriprocessors," he wrote following his
visit to the community. "We heard allegations of all kinds of abuses:
underage workers, the poorest pay of any slaughterhouse in Iowa,
supervisors who demanded payments and sexual favors in exchange for
jobs or particular assignments. Workers consistently described being
cursed at and screamed at to work faster and harder. We heard of people
working in demanding and dangerous jobs with no training. We heard two
stories of workers being struck. We repeatedly heard workers describe
how a lead supervisor would demand that they buy a used car from him
for more than its value in order to get a job at the plant, even though
they were not eligible for a driver’s license."
Kravitz said the people he spoke with were in the process of being
deported and had "nothing to gain or lose from what they now say about
"We have stood by enjoying our kosher meat and chicken at the
expense of simple folks who have been severely mistreated and whose
lives are now in utter disarray," he said. "We have a responsibility to
speak out about this. … We must urge all quarters of the Jewish
community to respond to this travesty."
Despite a recent agreement with Iowa regulators concerning fines for
health and safety violations, Agriprocessors lost roughly 150
non-skilled laborers this week. The laborers were brought to the plant
by Labor Ready, a Waterloo firm that provides contract workers. The
workers, who had been in the plant for about 10 days, were pulled due
to concerns for care and safety.
Federal authorities raided the plant on May 12, taking 389 workers
from primarily Guatemala or Mexico into custody on possible immigration
violations. Out of the 302 workers criminally charged in the case, 297
pleaded guilty and were sentenced last week. Most convicted will serve
five months in a federal prison before facing deportation. Counts said
he could not comment on if the now convicted workers were cooperating
with authorities as a part of the ongoing investigation.
Agriprocessors, owned and operated by the Aaron Rusbashkin family,
produces about 60 percent of the kosher meat and 40 percent of the
kosher poultry in the U.S. market. The company’s brands include Aaron’s
Best, Aaron’s Choice, European Glatt, Nevel, Shor Harbor, Rubashkin’s,
Supreme Kosher, David’s and Iowa’s Best. Two-thirds of their products
are nonkosher, and are sold through retailers including Wal-Mart and
Trader Joe’s. Rusbashkin recently announced that his son, Sholom, will
no longer serve as chief executive officer of the Postville facility.
- Emily Douglas, Immigrant Workers Tell of Abuses at Iowa Plant