Pressure Builds on Iowa Kosher Company

By Nathaniel Popper

Published September 30, 2009, issue of October 09, 2009.

A congresswoman has joined with a host of national Jewish organizations to pressure a controversial Iowa kosher meat company to open up dialogue with the community in which it is located.

Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, wrote one of a number of recent letters to the new owners of Agri-Star, who bought a kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, in July, a little over a year after the company was the subject of a massive immigration raid. Community leaders in Postville have complained that the company’s new CEO, Daniel Hirsch, has refused to meet with them to discuss the company’s plans.

On September 23, Schakowsky wrote: “I understand that Postville business, civic, and community leaders are ready to take steps to ensure that your success happens in accordance with human and labor rights. I strongly encourage you to meet with the Postville Community Benefits Alliance.”

Schakowsky’s letter was joined by similar letters from the Catholic archbishop of Dubuque, the head of the local Lutheran synod, and one from 15 Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Council on Public Affairs and the American Jewish World Service.

The Postville Community Benefits Alliance was created by the local Lutheran and Catholic churches, and includes progressive Jewish organizations in Minnesota and Chicago. The alliance is hoping to negotiate a community benefits agreement with the company, but has previously been told that the new owners did not have time to meet.

A lawyer for the company, Shalom Jacobs, would not say whether the firm would meet with the alliance, but did say that, “the first priority is — and must be — reinvigorating operations at the plant in Postville.”

Contact Nathaniel Popper at popper@forward.com



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