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More on Agriprocessors: Child labor allegations and company response

It seemed for a while things might have quieted on the Postville front, but the past few days have brought a flood of new information. Let’s briefly recap:

  • Yesterday the Iowa labor commissioner referred 57 allegations of child labor violations to the state attorney general, calling the violations “egregious” and recommending they be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law.”
  • This news follows by one day the declaration by a group of 25 Orthodox rabbis that the plant was clean and modern and entirely different from the “jungle” described by New York Times editorialists.
  • Shmuel Herzfeld, an Orthodox rabbi in Washington, penned an op-ed in today’s Times saying the responses of the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America have “fallen far short.”

Agriprocessors spokesman Menachem Lubinsky also provided JTA with a number of documents last night that provide an interesting window into the way the labor commissioner’s investigation unfolded.

Included in the documents is a substantial amount of communication between lawyers for the company and the labor commissioner’s attorney that appear to show Agriprocessors cooperating with requests for information.

On April 28, barely two weeks before the raid, Agri’s attorney wrote this to Gail Sheridan-Lucht, the labor commissioner attorney:

Second, although we have told you and provided documents demonstrating that Agriprocessors does not have any reason to believe it is presently employing any employee under the age of 18, you stated last week that you believe there are employees who may be under the age of 18. We all agreed that neither the State of Iowa, nor Agriprocessors, wants minors working in Agriprocessors’s facility. We asked you for the names of those employees you believe to be under the age of 18, so Agriprocessors could take appropriate action to terminate their employment. You stated that you did not want to provide those names until you had the chance to review Agriprocessors’s records to ensure the individuals in question previously worked or are presently working at Agriprocessors. Without those names, Agriprocessors is concerned that it may be inadvertently continuing to employ underage workers, a situation Agriprocessors would want to stop now. We would respectfully ask that you reconsider your position of not revealing the names until after your May 20-21 on-site review so Agriprocessors can address whatever additional information you have at this time, and terminate employment now of any underage worker if that is happening.

Dave Neil, the Iowa labor commissioner, told JTA that at the time that request was made, the state had no names, only reports. According to the Times report, Agri believes the government’s failure to make those names available resulted in the arrest of some of those underage workers in the May 12 immigration raid.

Lubinsky also included termination documentation for four workers who were fired for being underage. One of the workers was apparently found out when her photo appeared in the local newspaper, which identified her as being in the eighth grade. Agri’s HR manager, Elizabeth Billmeyer, reports that she then called the employee to her office, who was working at Agri under a different name, and asked her to provide a birth certificate. The employee became belligerent and was fired.

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