News out of Postville today was that kosher supervisors at Agriprocessors, upset by fewer shifts and reduced pay, had staged a walkout. Though we were unable to get in touch with any supervisors, the company has more or less confirmed the essential details of the story. Our brief on the subject is here.
What’s clear from this episode is that more than three months after the massive federal immigration raid on May 12, Agriprocessors is still well below its previous production levels, so much so that there isn’t enough work for the supervisors. What’s less clear is whether the company is having such significant cash flow problems that it is behind in payments to the supervisors. This isn’t entirely implausible, given that the company is not only facing much decreased revenues but also increased labor and legal costs. Agri has had to up its hourly wage to attract new workers and the staffing companies they have hired are surely taking a nice cut as well.
Here’s company spokesman Menachem Lubinsky’s explanation of what went down today:
It is no secret that Agriprocessors was forced to cut back production of meat and poultry after more than 1/3 of its labor force was seized in a May 12th raid by ICE. 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. This morning, the rabbis staged a brief 30 minute walk-out to air their grievances. After quick negotiations with Heshy Rubashkin and Rabbi Weissmandl [the chief supervising rabbi], they were satisfied with management’s response and returned to work. The rabbis are, of course, hoping for a resumption of pre-May 12th production, which would again offer them the opportunities they had before. Agriprocessors is committed to make 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.