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Situation at Agriprocessors ‘off limits to outside scrutiny’ says Rabbi
Hispanics who worked at the Agriprocessors plant prior to the May 12 immigration raid, told stories of sexual and financial coercion. Some workers who came to and left Postville in the weeks following the raid have spoken of broken promises. The stories told by minors who claim to be former employees at the kosher meatpacker have, at least in part, fueled an ongoing investigation into 57 cases of child labor law violations.
According to Rabbi Menachem Weissmandl, however, information surrounding the recent compensation spat between management and Jewish employees at the plant falls so squarely within the sacred that it cannot be discussed.
“As the supervising rabbi for all glatt kosher meat and strictly kosher poultry at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, I am responsible for the well-being of the slaughterers (shochtim) and supervising (mashgichim) rabbis,” said Weissmandl in an e-mail to Iowa Independent on Thursday. “To protect the integrity of the kashruth, their relationship is strictly with us. Under no circumstances can we permit that this relationship be compromised and thus is off limits to outside scrutiny, as is prescribed by Jewish law.”
Delivered by Menachem Lubinsky, president of the marketing firm Lubicom and a spokesman for Agriprocessors, the statements from Weissmandl came in response to an inquiry submitted by Iowa Independent in relation to Jewish workers walking off the job Wednesday.
When the Agriprocessors plant was at full production, it was believed as many as 70 rabbis were needed to oversee and perform the sacramental slaughter of livestock according to halakha, or Jewish law. Plant officials freely admit that the plant has not been at such high production levels since a federal immigration raid in May resulted in the detention of nearly 400 of the company’s estimated 900 workers.
â€œIt 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],â€ Lubinsky said. â€œWhile the company has made big strides in hiring new workers and restoring production, it is still significantly behind May 12th levels.”
It has been this inability to secure a stable workforce that led to what Lubinsky described as a compensation “lag” and the ultimate protest by the Jewish workers this week.
“For the kosher slaughterers … 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 companyâ€™s policy of a lag-time in their paychecks,” he explained.
The brief standoff between workers and management came to a close when a tentative compensation agreement was reached, according to sources at Agriprocessors. Those same sources have stated that the agreement was for the disgruntled workers to receive some compensation at the end of the work day. It was an agreement, Iowa Independent has been told, that was not kept. The vast majority of the employees, however, were at work on the production line today and are anticipated to return tomorrow. The plant will close on Saturday for observance of Shabbat and, according to three independent sources in Postville, Weissmandl be in eastern Iowa on Sunday to speak personally with the workers.
Iowa Independent requested more information from Lubinsky regarding the upcoming Postville visit and a clarification of the role played Weissmandl during the Wednesday negotiations. In addition, we asked for confirmation on information provided to us by residents of Postville and workers at Agriprocessors regarding the status of Rabbis that have taken employment at the plant in the wake of the raid as well as those who have left employment. The final two requests were for a clarification of the role Sholom Rubashkin, former president at the Postville operation and son of Agriprocessors founder Aaron Rubashkin, and a request for a face-to-face interview with various members of plant management. All were ignored.
“The rabbis and shochtim under our jurisdiction are hand-picked pious Orthodox Jews who are fully committed to the observance of the highest level of kashruth at the plant,” Weissmandl said in closing.