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Open letter to readers: Today and tomorrow

By Lynda Waddington | 11.17.11

Wednesday was a difficult day for The American Independent News Network, which is the larger entity that operates The Iowa Independent. Our chief executive and founder announced two of our sister sites would close and their content would be moved to The American Independent.

ACS lockout continues; plan emerges to repeal sugar protections

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By Virginia Chamlee | 11.15.11

A recently introduced bill could have far-reaching impact on the U.S. sugar industry, including American Crystal Sugar, a farmer-owned cooperative that locked out 1,300 Midwest workers on Aug. 1.

Cain campaign: Farmers know more about regulations than EPA

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By Andrew Duffelmeyer | 11.15.11

The chairman for Herman Cain’s Iowa effort says the campaign “relied more on the word of farmers than Washington regulators” in deciding to run an ad containing claims the Environmental Protection Agency says are false.

Mathis wins, Democrats maintain Senate control

Liz Mathis
By Lynda Waddington | 11.08.11

The Iowa Senate will remain under the control of a slim 26-25 Democratic majority when it reconvenes in January 2012.

Press Release

PR: Nation should work to address veterans’ challenges

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

BRUCE BRALEY RELEASE — As US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan ends, it’s more important than ever that our nation works to address the challenges faced by the men and women who fought there.

PR: Honoring veterans, help in hiring

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

CHUCK GRASSLEY RELEASE — A difficult job market is challenging the soldiers, sailors and airmen who have protected America’s interests by serving in the Armed Forces.

PR: In honor of America’s veterans

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

TOM LATHAM RELEASE — No one has done more to secure the freedom enjoyed by every single American than our veterans and those currently serving in the armed services.

PR: Honoring and supporting our nation’s veterans

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

DAVE LOEBSACK RELEASE — Veterans Day is an opportunity to reflect on the service of generations of veterans and to honor the sacrifices they and their families have made so that we may live in peace and freedom here at home.

Agriprocessors Imports Homeless Workers and Postville Pays a Price

By Lynda Waddington | 06.25.08 | 9:25 am

People in the northeastern Iowa town of Postville have spent the past two decades learning how to thrive despite a wealth of differences. Between the town’s longtime residents, the influx of Hasidic Jews who arrived in the late 1980s to operate a kosher slaughterhouse, and the recently arrived Central American and Mexican migrants, the town of 2,500 had the ethnic mix of a much larger city. Just a few weeks ago many would have said that the town had worked through the worst of its growing pains to settle into a primarily quiet and productive routine.

Before the nation’s largest single-site immigration raid came crashing down upon Agriprocessors, a kosher meatpacking plant, and swept away nearly half of the company’s workforce and 18 percent of the population, life was different in Postville. Now the town’s elected officials and residents scramble as they try to balance the needs of the town with those of their largest employer.

Girls sit in front of a Hispanic restaurant in Postville Three girls relax on the steps in front of a restaurant in Postville. Paul Rael, director of the Hispanic Ministry at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, says newcomers to the community, many without means to care for themselves, are putting added strain on the church’s outreach effort. Church resources were already stretched thin as parishioners attempted to help members of the Hispanic community following the May 12 immigration raid.

“I know there are concerns around town about the rebuilding effort following the May 12 raid of Agriprocessors,” said Getzel Rubashkin, a member of the Brooklyn-based family that owns Agriprocessors. While adding that he was not a spokesman for the company, he said, “I want to say that, as residents of this town, we know this is not a company that is run by remote control from somewhere else. Our community lives here with the company and we have to deal with any negative impact of people brought into town to work at the plant.”

Rubashkin’s words before the Postville City Council on behalf of his family and the Hasidic Jewish community were prompted by a recent crime wave that some residents blame on newly hired plant employees. At least a portion of the new workers, desperately needed for the plant to return to normal production levels, were recruited from homeless shelters in Texas.

“This past Saturday, our officers responded to three calls for disorderly conduct,” said Postville Police Chief Michael Halse. “While that may not seem like a lot, you need to understand that on any given Saturday we might have one such call.”

Since 1992, Postville has had an average of 12.5 incidents of disorderly conduct and public intoxication per year with a high of 44 such cases in 1998. At that time, according to Halse, Agriprocessors had employed many young and single Hispanic men who had a difficult time adjusting.

“I couldn’t tell you if we are going to break that record,” Halse said. “But if things continue as they are right now, we’ll have a good chance of doing it.”

Agencies Screening Workers

Ryan Regenold, a spokesman for Des Moines-based Jacobson Companies, said his staffing company was relying on two Texas agencies, one in Amarillo and another in McAllen, for recruiting in that state.

“I represent Jacobson Staffing, and we were brought here on June 2 to basically bring in an entire new community — at least that’s how it seems,” Regenold said. “There are two outside-sourced agencies that Agri is using that were bringing the people from Texas. As I’m sure most have already heard, they are coming in from Amarillo and McAllen. To shore up that, we are screening those people a little bit better, we will be starting to have them drug-screened and background-checked prior to their coming to Postville. The wave of people that you might have seen in the past, those causing the police chief to do a little bit of extra paperwork on his weekends, hopefully will begin to stop.”

Regenold added that overall he has been pleased with the relationship between Agriprocessors and Jacobson, and that only about 10 percent of the people sent to work at the plant have been lost to turnover. He urged those in attendance at the council meeting to try and overlook the “bad apples” and promised to make himself available to officials who had questions about the staff restoration at Agriprocessors.

“We do have and do provide — teamed up with Agriprocessors — we do ship these people out,” he said. “We offer them an opportunity. We offer them a bus ticket to go back where they came from. We cannot force them to leave the community by any means, but we do give them the option to get out of the community. We give them transportation back to Waterloo and a bus ticket back to wherever they came from.”

All new hires coming through Jacobson are being checked through the E-Verify system, an online system operated jointly by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration (SSA), to ensure their legal status, Regenold said.

“Within the first three days that I was here, we turned away 110 people that tried to get in the doors,” he said. “I think that effort right there is a lot of paperwork and should be applauded. We are trying to clean up the community the best we can.”

Upon completion of Regenold’s informal presentation to the council, Mayor Robert Penrod issued his own warning.

“I’m going to hold you to [what you've said]. And, if you can’t get it turned around, we are going to go round and round,” said Penrod. “That’s the bottom line because this is not going to happen again. There’s no excuse for what we’ve been putting up with and, as far as I’m concerned, that’s poor management on your part.”

One of the firms being utilized by Jacobson is Bravo Labor Agency in McAllen, Texas. Although the company’s Web site has been taken off-line, a May 30 cached version of the page indicates that the firm began in 1987. One of the specialties highlighted by the firm is its ability to “lower overhead, with inexpensive labor from South Texas and Mexico.” The site also indicates that “all workers” will be drug-tested and interviewed, “if needed.”

Texas Recruit: ‘A Bunch of Lies’

Despite Regenold’s statements before the council that workers bussed into Postville were being offered bus tickets back to their original location, at least one worker said she was not provided such an option.

In an interview on KPVL radio, Diana Morris said that she was one of about 15 people who were recruited from an Amarillo shelter. Morris said she was promised $10 per hour at Agriprocessors, 30 days of free housing and a $100 starting bonus. According to Morris, her employment at Agriprocessors came to an end on her third day when, at a doctor’s urging, she phoned in sick. She claims that the housing was a four-bedroom facility without electricity or hot water that she was expected to share with 10 male roommates.

Morris told Iowa Independent on Monday afternoon that she had received her paycheck for the work she provided to Agriprocessors and that she was working with other organizations within the community to raise money for a bus ticket back to Texas.

“I was told that I have a place to stay for one more night — that I’ll be evicted tomorrow,” she said. “I really hope that everything comes together and that I’ll be able to get on a bus tomorrow and go back to Texas. This was a mistake. I believed a bunch of lies.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Morris had collected enough money through donations for her return trip home.

Limited Resources

The “bad apples” aren’t the first to come to Postville for work at Agriprocessors only to seek exit shortly after their arrival. Labor Ready, a multinational staffing firm with a branch in Waterloo, cited health and safety concerns as the reason it pulled roughly 150 workers out of the Agriprocessors plant 10 days after they started employment there. Another group of workers from the company’s Nebraska plant opted to return west, claiming the working conditions in Postville to be far inferior to their original location.

Paul Rael, director of the Hispanic Ministry at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, said the church’s resources for outreach have been severely taxed by all the newcomers.

“[St. Bridget's] operates a food pantry here in town and we’ve been wiped out on every occasion that we’ve been open,” Rael said. “We have been serving well over 100 people each time [who] we feel we have zero responsibility for. … I would plead that these people be given a better advance so that they can better take care of their [own] needs.”

Regenold said that Jacobson does not provide any payroll advances to employees.

“You come here with an opportunity to work — that’s your opportunity to make money,” he said. “I’m not going to make any promises or guarantees of money on advancements. Any arrangement that has ever been made with money has been put together directly with Agriprocessors.”

Rubashkin, who was in the room and listened to Regenold’s explanation of Jacobson policy, did not offer further comment in relation to employee pay advances.

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.

An investigation remains under way, according to spokesmen for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Iowa and for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Follow Lynda Waddington on Twitter


Comments

  • Jerry

    Another solution Has Agriprocessors tried offering an Iowa level wage, so as to attract local labor?  I see Iowa’s unemployment rate is up.  Some local workers may be available if wages are in line with the nature of the work and local cost of living.  It seems like they are going to great lengths to avoid this simple solution.

  • Getzel Rubashkin

    A few comments A few comments I had, after reading this article:

    Firstly, I went on the air following Ms. Morris’ interview to respond to some of her issues. I also spoke directly to her about the matter.
    She misrepresented a number of things. When she arrived she was given the option to stay in one of the “guest-houses” where some of the workers are given free lodging. She was put in a women-only house. She chose to leave that location without informing those responsible for housing, and she went to a different house without authorization.

    Her first house was having electricity and boiler issues due to the flooding in the area.

    The reason for her being fired were legitimate, but I am unsure what whether I can legally disclose that information.

    She was offered a ride to the bus station and a ticket back to Texas, which she declined. She threatened the person who offered it to her with legal action for “trying to force her to leave town.”

    I did not comment on the pay advances because it is not an area I have much to do with and I had nothing of value to add to his words.

    I will close by saying that individuals that are portraying the situation here in Postville as exploitative could not be further from the truth.

  • David

    Labels Any company can change its brand names and labels. But one thing it cannot change is the USDA establishment code which identifies which plant the product came from. Agriprocessors Est code is 4653A.
    If consumers look for that code they can identify whether or not the product came from Agriprocessors and decide to purchase it, or not.

  • David

    Labels Any company can change its brand names and labels. But one thing it cannot change is the USDA establishment code which identifies which plant the product came from. Agriprocessors Est code is 4653A.

    If consumers look for that code they can identify whether or not the product came from Agriprocessors and decide to purchase it, or not.

  • Jerry

    Another solution Has Agriprocessors tried offering an Iowa level wage, so as to attract local labor?  I see Iowa's unemployment rate is up.  Some local workers may be available if wages are in line with the nature of the work and local cost of living.  It seems like they are going to great lengths to avoid this simple solution.

  • Proud Legal American

    Good Point Another Solution I agree with you.  There are plenty of people who would step to the plate and work if Agriprocessors paid a decent local wage.  It seems to me that Agriprocessors Management and Owners just wants to pay as minimally as possible to keep more money in their own wallets. 

    What I've learned in business, is that is something isn't working, adjust plans.  Homeless people from Texas aren't working out.  Illegal Aliens definitely are a NO GO!  The folks from Agriprocessors in Nebraska did not work out due to sanitary and safety issues.  Same with Labor Ready. These failures tell me that Agriprocessors Management need to alter their business plans by cleaning up the plant, hiring legal American fully documented Americans, paying a decent wage to the locals.  Suck it up Rubashkins, Agriprocessors  and all the other Illegal Alien Sympathizers!

    A Proud Legal Hispanic American

  • Getzel Rubashkin

    A few comments A few comments I had, after reading this article:

    Firstly, I went on the air following Ms. Morris' interview to respond to some of her issues. I also spoke directly to her about the matter.

    She misrepresented a number of things. When she arrived she was given the option to stay in one of the “guest-houses” where some of the workers are given free lodging. She was put in a women-only house. She chose to leave that location without informing those responsible for housing, and she went to a different house without authorization.

    Her first house was having electricity and boiler issues due to the flooding in the area.

    The reason for her being fired were legitimate, but I am unsure what whether I can legally disclose that information.

    She was offered a ride to the bus station and a ticket back to Texas, which she declined. She threatened the person who offered it to her with legal action for “trying to force her to leave town.”

    I did not comment on the pay advances because it is not an area I have much to do with and I had nothing of value to add to his words.

    I will close by saying that individuals that are portraying the situation here in Postville as exploitative could not be further from the truth.

  • Scott J.

    Hmm? She chose to leave that location without informing those responsible for housing, and she went to a different house without authorization.

    “…without authorization”?  Are you kidding me?  “Guests” need authorization to leave your “guest-houses”?

    “… flooding in the area”?  Really?  What flooding?  And where did the other residents of your “guest-house” go, since there were electrical and boiler issues?

  • Proud Legal American

    Good Point Another Solution I agree with you.  There are plenty of people who would step to the plate and work if Agriprocessors paid a decent local wage.  It seems to me that Agriprocessors Management and Owners just wants to pay as minimally as possible to keep more money in their own wallets. 

    What I’ve learned in business, is that is something isn’t working, adjust plans.  Homeless people from Texas aren’t working out.  Illegal Aliens definitely are a NO GO!  The folks from Agriprocessors in Nebraska did not work out due to sanitary and safety issues.  Same with Labor Ready. These failures tell me that Agriprocessors Management need to alter their business plans by cleaning up the plant, hiring legal American fully documented Americans, paying a decent wage to the locals.  Suck it up Rubashkins, Agriprocessors  and all the other Illegal Alien Sympathizers!

    A Proud Legal Hispanic American

  • Scott J.

    Hmm? She chose to leave that location without informing those responsible for housing, and she went to a different house without authorization.

    “…without authorization”?  Are you kidding me?  “Guests” need authorization to leave your “guest-houses”?

    “… flooding in the area”?  Really?  What flooding?  And where did the other residents of your “guest-house” go, since there were electrical and boiler issues?

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