Agri fends off Obama, Iowa governor

Presidential hopeful Barack Obama jumped into the fray over Agriprocessors yesterday by slamming the company for hiring underage workers (more on that here). Coming on the eve of the DNC convention in Denver, the comment predictably got a lot of attention. But it followed a far lengthier and more damning appraisal of the company by Iowa governor and fellow Democrat Chet Culver.

Writing Sunday
in the Des Moines Register, Culver assailed the company for taking advantage of a failed immigration policy and of “taking the low road” in its business practices. He reviews the history of troubles the company has run into with government regulators and pats himself on the back for the steps his administration has taken in response to the latest allegations. Finally, he tops it off with what is fast becoming standard practice when criticizing Agriprocessors – referencing Upton Sinclair’s landmark expose of the meatpacking industry in the novel “The Jungle.”

Agri responded Tuesday with a comprehensive refutation of the governor and an invitation to tour the plant (apparently, everyone gets one of these now except for me).

Full statement after the jump.

AGRI RESPONDS TO THE GOVERNOR

Gov. Chet Culver in his Sunday op-ed essay urged Agriprocessors to “take the high road” and join the family of responsible businesses in Iowa. We believe that we are indeed on course to take the “high road.”

Agriprocessors moved to Iowa two decades ago precisely because the company had a vision: to create a source of kosher meat that could supply the nation’s growing demand for kosher foods with healthy, good-quality and reasonably priced meat. Agriprocessors chose to locate its plant in Iowa because of what the state had and continues to offer. Iowa offers honest, hard-working people – people who work for our company and people who supply the company with products and services.

With the grace of God, Agriprocessors flourished in the state of Iowa while benefiting the citizens of Iowa. It provided jobs to many hundreds of people and stimulated economic growth not only in Postville but throughout the state. Agriprocessors is very much a part of Iowa’s dream, creating a value-added product from the great beef in Iowa for export nationwide.

Agriprocessors fully subscribes to the governor’s call to begin to take the high road and join the family of responsible businesses in Iowa since it wholeheartedly believes that it is doing precisely that. In just the past few months, it has taken a number of important steps that certainly fulfill that challenge.

While the governor’s first bill in office was to raise the minimum wage from $6.25 per hour to $7.25 an hour, Agriprocessors has raised its minimum starting wage from $7.25 per hour to $10 per hour (for workers with skills). The company has also instituted affordable and quality health care for all of its workers, another prime concern of the governor.

Agriprocessors regrets that some of its employees may have used fraudulent documents to lie about their age. Agriprocessors has been in contact with the Iowa Department of Labor ever since it raised the issue early this year. It repeatedly asked the department to advise it of underage workers who may have fraudulently presented documents to work at the plant. The department did its own audit in April and did not find any underage workers. The company policy is clear: “No one under 18 may be employed at the plant.” When it did learn of several underage workers in the plant, they were immediately dismissed.

Agriprocessors hired Jim Martin, a former U.S. attorney in Missouri, as its new compliance officer to ensure that the company is in complete compliance with all federal and state regulations. It has implemented safety training sessions for all of its supervisors and for all of its workers. The company means it: Safety is its No. 1 concern. Everyone at Agriprocessors knows that, its officers, employees on the line and supervisors.

Agriprocessors hired a former Occupational Safety and Health Administration official to monitor its compliance with all federal and state safety requirements. Agriprocessors is a modern and safe place to work, as anyone who has visited the plant recently can plainly see. It has also hired an experienced staffing company to do its hiring, and it is voluntarily using the new federal e-Verify system.

The water-treatment problem that the governor raises was a problem years ago not only for the company’s plant but also for another business as well. While the other company cut and ran, Agriprocessors stayed the course and invested heavily in a high-technology water-treatment plant that is a model of environmental friendliness and is the envy of companies across the country and, indeed, throughout the world. Ironically, Agriprocessors never received any credit for this bold action.

We are pleased to invite the governor to visit the plant, to meet with our leadership and to see the truth firsthand. In such a meeting, we would be delighted to hear the governor’s suggestions as to how we can further improve to fulfill the governor’s challenge to us. In addition to meeting with us, the governor should meet with members of our community, the mayor of Postville, with our happy employees and our supervisors and our compliance officers.

In the end, we are certain that the governor will see firsthand that our plant is anything but a “jungle,” and, when all of the bitterness of the last few months is taken out of the equation, that we are indeed on course to being on an even “higher road.”

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