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Agriprocessors’ Fines Reduced, State Child Labor Investigation Stalled
Agriprocessors, the kosher meatpacking plant that was the site of the nation’s largest single-event federal immigration raid on May 12, has had fines related to numerous health and safety violations reduced by Iowa regulators.
The Iowa Division of Labor Services fined the plant $182,000 in March, based on 39 violations. Kerry Koonce, a spokeswoman for Iowa Workforce Development, said it is not unusual for hefty fines to be reduced following corrections of violations. During informal meetings, company and state officials met to discuss how the problems would be solved, and the fines have been reduced to $42,750.
The Iowa Division of Labor Services, according to Koonce, is continuing its investigation into whether or not the Postville company employed minors.
“That investigation is ongoing,” she said in a telephone interview. “Our problem is that many of our records were confiscated by the federal government [as a part of immigration raid]. Our investigation is stalled until we receive those documents back.”
The investigation into child labor law violations began in March, well before the May 12 immigration raid. The federal government, which took 20-some minors as detainees during the raid, will now also have a role to play in that investigation.
Health and safety investigators found that the company had failed to develop emergency response plans, improperly stored and used hazardous chemicals, failed to develop respirator use programs, had not properly labeled emergency exits, contained emergency alarms that could not be heard by all employees, and had failed to develop safety plans for blood-borne pathogens.
Nearly 400 individuals were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement during the May 12 immigration raid at the plant. Of those detained, 302 faced criminal charges related to identify theft and/or falsified documents. Nearly all — 297 or 98 percent — opted to take a plea bargain that resulted in most being sentenced to five months in federal prison. Since Iowa contains no federal prison, all will be transported to other states to serve their time, and will then be subject to deportation. It remains unclear if federal prosecutors will have the former plant workers serve as witnesses in any investigation into the company’s possible wrongdoing.
Agriprocessors is owned by Aaron Rubashkin of New York and is the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the nation. Last Friday — two weeks after federal agents served their search warrant and took more than a third of the company’s employees into custody — Rubashkin announced that he intended to replace his son, Sholom, as the company’s chief executive officer.