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Worker walk-out at Agriprocessors further disrupts production
Jewish workers at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville walked off the job today. The exact details of the walk-out and the reasons behind it remain unclear.
“It is no secret that Agriprocessors was forced to cut back production of meat and poultry after more than a third of its labor force was seized in a May 12th raid by [Immigration and Customs Enforcement],” said Menachem Lubinsky, president of Lubicom and spokesperson for Agriprocessors. “While the company has made big strides in hiring new workers and restoring production, it is still significantly behind May 12th levels. For the kosher slaughterers (shochtim) and rabbis, this has meant not being able to work multiple shifts and a 6-day work week, cutting into their ability to make more money, while also making do with the company’s policy of a lag-time in their paychecks.”
According to Lubinsky, rabbis at the plant staged a 30-minute walk-out this morning “to air their grievances.” The walk-out ended, he said, after “quick negotiations” with Heshy Rubashkin, son of company founder Aaron Rubashkin, and Rabbi Menachem Weissmandl, head rabbi at the plant.
According to two sources inside the plant, however, the walk-out was not an action limited to only the rabbis, but was completed by most, if not all, Jewish workers at the plant. The sources confirm that the action stemmed from compensation disputes, but claim that at least a portion of the Jewish employees there have not received compensation for four to six weeks.
Lubinsky and plant sources agree that the action came to a close this afternoon when the workers and plant management reached a tentative agreement. While Lubinsky did not elaborate on the agreement reached by the two parties, plant sources said that plant management agreed on a time frame for compensation.
The walk-out caused a temporary lapse in the already beleaguered plant production. Because kosher regulations mandate rabbi supervision, production had to cease during the labor action. Agriprocessors is the largest producer of kosher meat and the Postville plant is the largest of its type in the U.S. Management has had a difficult time locating and maintaining employees since the May 12 federal immigration action that netted 389 undocumented workers at the plant. In addition, recent charges of child labor law infractions have shown further unfavorable light on the meatpacker.
Of the 389 workers detained in the raid, most quickly charged and convicted of criminal wrongdoing related to identity theft. While no members of upper management have faced criminal charges in connection with the raid, three supervisors were named in complaints issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Iowa. Two of those supervisors are currently awaiting trail for encouraging illegal workers at the plant. One, Juan Carlos Guerrero-Espinoza, is expected to enter a guilty plea in federal court today on a lesser charge of conspiracy.
Lubinsky said that the rabbis who were a part of the walk-out are “hoping for a resumption of pre-May 12th production, which would again offer them the opportunities they had before.”
“Agriprocessors is committed to making every effort to restore full production so that the rabbis can again enjoy the working conditions that attracted them to Postville in the first place,” he said.