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Uri L’Tzedek Ends Rubashkin Product Boycott
A grassroots Jewish social justice organization that called for a consumer boycott of all products manufactured under the Rubashkin label in May announced this morning that it no longer supports such restrictions.
While citing approval for the success of the six-week boycott, Uri L’Tzedek founder and co-director Shmuly Yanklowitz stated that the group remains “deeply committed to challenging what is broken in our world” as well as “partnering to support efforts toward fixing it.”
According to the statement, the organization is lifting the suggested boycott as a response to Agriprocessors hiring former federal attorney James Martin to serve as the Postville meatpacking plant’s compliance officer. Changes that have been instituted by Martin, such as an anonymous employee tip line to report worker safety and rights violations, are enough, according to the statement, to begin lifting the voluntary restrictions.
“If Agriprocessors does not implement Mr. Martin’s recommendations or demonstrates that it is not committed to full compliance with all laws regarding worker safety, pay and rights, then we will once again raise our concerns with Agriprocessors and with the community of kosher consumers,” Yanklowitz warned.
The initial complaint filed by Uri L’Tzedek with company founder Aaron Rubashkin made three demands:
- Agriprocessors pay all its workers at least the federal minimum wage.
- Agriprocessors recommit to abide by all federal, state and local laws including those pertaining to worker safety, sexual harassment, physical abuse, and the rights of its employees to collective bargaining.
- Agriprocessors treat those who work for the company according to the standards that the Torah and halakha places on protecting workers — standards that include the spirit of lifnim meshurat hadin, meaning going beyond the bare minimum requirements of the law.
The statement released this morning does not directly address those initial three concerns and instead points to existing and potential progress by the Rubashkin family and at the Postville meatpacking plant as justification for removal of the boycott. Yanklowitz also points existing circumstances in eastern Iowa that the group continues to find troubling.
“There are still matters of great concern in Postville: shattered families left without wage earners, mothers unable to find jobs to pay for basic necessities, children thousands of miles from home living in fear of another raid, a broken Postville economy, and deeply flawed federal immigration policy.,” Yankowitz wrote. “Addressing these larger issues is integral to our work as activists. Uri L’Tzedek leadership has helped raise significant funds for the families deeply hurt by the raids and has met with U.S. House and Senate staff, and has had a conversation with Senator Joseph Lieberman, Head of the Department of Homeland Security to express our concerns about the human suffering that results from these kinds of enforcement tactics.”
On May 12 the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville was the location of the largest single-site immigration raid in the nation’s history. Armed with a search warrant for nearly 700 individuals, federal authorities entered the plant and detained 389 people. The vast majority of those detained were quickly ushered through a criminal process on the grounds of primarily identity theft.
Until last week, when indictments naming three members of management were announced by the U.S. Department of Justice, the only people to face charges as a result of the raid were immigrant workers. Since one supervisor cannot currently be located by federal officials, two are currently facing charges in federal court for the roles they allegedly played in maintaining an illegal work force.
In April, roughly a month prior to the Immigration and Custom Enforcement action on the plant, Agriprocessors lost one of its three kosher supervising agencies. K’hal Adath Jeshurun ended its supervision of all Agriprocessors products effective April 15 in a letter sent to Aaron Rubashkin in December. The letter, while not revealing the reason for the change, did indicate that Agriprocessors had appealed the supervising agency’s original decision to terminate the relationship.
Agriprocessors 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. Sales of kosher beef and poultry in America are about $300 million annually, and a Dunn & Bradstreet report lists Rubashkin Industries, which includes real estate and other ventures in addition to meat, with an annual income of $84.9 million.