First Criminal Charges Filed Against Agriprocessors Owners

Orthodox Union Threatens To Withdraw Certification

By Nathaniel Popper

Published September 09, 2008.
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Read an updated version of this article here.

The first criminal charges were filed against the owners of the country’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, Agriprocessors, in connection with a May immigration raid at the plant.

The Iowa attorney general filed more than 9,000 separate child labor charges against the company, its human resources managers and members of the family that owns the plant, including Aaron Rubashkin, CEO of the company, and Sholom Rubashkin, who had overseen operations at its Postville, Iowa, slaughterhouse.

In the immediate aftermath of the charges, the leading kosher certifier in the United States, the Orthodox Union, said it would suspend its certification of Agriprocessors unless the company finds new management within a few weeks.

“We’ve told them that they have to have new management, independent management, not just another family member,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of O.U. Kosher. “The time frame we’re talking about is weeks.”

The charges each carry a maximum of 30 days in jail or a fine. Each day worked by a minor counts as a single charge. The complaint says that many of the workers were under the age of 16.

“All of the named individual Defendants possessed shared knowledge that Agriprocessors employed undocumented aliens,” said a statement from the Iowa attorney general’s office. “It was likewise shared knowledge among the Defendants that many of those workers were minors.”

A statement from the company spokesman, Chaim Abrahams, denied that the company knew about the underage workers at the company.

“Agriprocessors acted in good faith on the child labor issue,” the statement said. “We look forward to our day in court.”

“All of the minors at issue lied about their age in order to gain employment at the company. At the time of hiring, all of the minors, like all job applicants, presented and signed documents stating that they were over 18,” the statement said.

Agriprocessors has been under scrutiny for its labor practices since the publication of a 2006 article in the Forward on working conditions at its Iowa slaughterhouse. On May 12 of this year, immigration officials arrested nearly 400 undocumented immigrant workers at the plant. Nearly 300 of those workers were sent to jail, and there has been some question about whether anyone in the company management would be held culpable.

The defendants are set to appear in Iowa court next Wednesday, September 17.






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