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January 2010, Volume 16, Number 1

Midwest: Agriprocessors, Poultry

Agriprocessors. A May 12, 2008 raid at the Agriprocessors meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa resulted in the removal of a third of the 900-strong labor force. Agriprocessors CEO Sholom Rubashkin was found guilty on 86 federal fraud charges on November 12, 2009. Prosecutors dropped the immigration charges, saying that Rubashkin already faces over 1,000 years in prison on the fraud convictions.

There have been several books and documentaries made in the aftermath of immigration enforcement at Agriprocessors. The Postville USA book chronicles the events leading up to and following the raid at Agriprocessors. It concludes that Postville was handling the increased diversity associated with its high-turnover meatpacking plant until the May 2008 raid, and the authors blame the federal government rather than Agriprocessors' owners for the demise of Postville. They conclude that government must do more to ensure that employers treat immigrant workers better, even if the result is higher food prices.

The film, "In the Shadow of the Raid," visits the Guatemalan hometown of many of the Agriprocessors' workers who were deported. http://streetdogmedia.wordpress.com/) The American Immigration Lawyers Association criticized the nomination of Stephanie Rose to be the US attorney in northern Iowa because of her role in the Agriprocessors raid, where many workers were charged with identity theft.

National Beef Packing, a meatpacker with six plants around the US, three of which are unionized, will have an election at its Dodge City, Kansas plant on January 21-22, 2010. The 2,700-employee plant is near a Cargill Meat Solutions plant whose employees are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers, which is seeking to represent the National Beef workers. National Beef says that its non-union employees are satisfied, as exemplified by the fact that a quarter of production employees have been at the plant at least five years.

Poultry. Columbia Farms, a Greenville, South Carolina-based poultry plant affiliated with House of Raeford Farms, in November 2009 entered into a deferred prosecution and global settlement agreement with the government to resolve pending criminal charges that it knowingly employed unauthorized workers. In 2007, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began to audit the firm's I-9 forms, and in October 2008 ICE agents raided the plant and arrested more than 300 workers.

As part of the settlement, House of Raeford will pay $1.5 million and begin to use E-Verify at eight plants in North Carolina, South Carolina and Louisiana.

In April 2008, ICE agents arrested 338 alleged illegal aliens employed at Pilgrim's Pride poultry plants in five states (Pilgrim's Pride has 41,000 employees in the US and Mexico). In December 2009, Pilgrim's Pride agreed to pay $4.5 million over three years and improve its system for verifying the legal status of new hires. Pilgrim's Pride voluntarily participates in E-Verify.

The EEOC reached a settlement with Minnesota-based JFC's Gold'n Plump Poultry and The Work Connection on March 31, 2009; the poultry processor and its staffing agency were charged with failure to accommodate Muslim employees' prayer requests. Gold'n Plump paid $215,000 to 128 employees and added a 10-minute break whose time varies with the daily Muslim prayer schedule. Work Connection paid $150,000 to 28 applicants who were not hired.

However, in January 2010, a state court upheld the decision of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to deny UI benefits to 22 Muslims who said that they were forced to quit Gold'n Plump because they could not have morning prayers. Gold'n Plump operates around the clock with 550 employees, and many of the night-shift workers are Somali Muslims. Gold'n Plump made accommodations for the Somali Muslims, but the 22 charged they were not sufficient, refused to sign a notice promising to abide by the revised break policy, and filed claims for unemployment insurance benefits. The UI judge found that their religious beliefs were not sincere and denied the 22 UI benefits.

Federal courts agreed that poultry processor Allen Family Foods does not have to pay for the time its employees spend donning and duffing protective gear (Sepulveda v. Allen Family Foods Inc., 4th Cir., No. 08-2256, 12/29/09). United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 27, which represents the workers, proposed in 2002 that employees be paid 12 minutes a day for donning and duffing, but this demand was not included in the agreement. Workers sued to be paid for donning and duffing, and the courts ruled that if the UFCW considered such time a high priority, it could be negotiated with the employer.

E Coli. There were 18 E. coli (0157:H7) outbreaks linked to ground beef between 2007 and 2009, increasing pressure on retailers to require the firms that grind the trimmings used to make ground beef to test for the bacteria. Slaughterhouses test their trimmings for E. coli, but they have resisted another round of tests at the grinders who normally buy trimmings from a number of slaughterhouses. Costco is one of the few retailers requiring a second test at grinders, allowing the grinder to trace back any positive tests to a particular slaughterhouse.

The E. Coli Eradication Act of 2009, introduced in the Senate in November 2009, would require testing for E. coli at slaughterhouses and then at grinding facilities before the trimmings are mixed.

Grey, Mark, Michele Devlin and Aaron Goldsmith. 2009. Postville USA: Surviving Diversity in Small Town America. GemmaMedia. www.GemmaMedia.com


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