Kosher Updates: A New Arrest and More

By Nathaniel Popper

Published November 20, 2008, issue of November 28, 2008.

The troubles at what was once the nation’s largest kosher meat producer, Agriprocessors, have continued to beset the company six months after a massive immigration raid at its Postville, Iowa, slaughterhouse and a few weeks after the company declared bankruptcy.

In the midst of its efforts to stay alive in the wake of the bankruptcy filing, the company has been hit with a number of new and independent developments that do not bode well for the company, the people who rely on it or the kosher meat industry at large.


Former CEO Arrested Again. On November 14, Sholom Rubashkin, former CEO of the Iowa operations, was arrested for the second time in a month. The first time, it was on charges that he helped immigrants procure false identification. This time, Rubashkin was hit with charges that he had committed bank fraud with a $35 million loan that the company had taken out. While Rubashkin was quickly let out on bail after the first arrest, the prosecutor this time labeled Rubashkin a “flight risk” and requested that he be kept in jail.

Supreme Court Petition Denied. The United States Supreme Court said on November 17 that it would not hear an appeal that Agriprocessors lawyers had made on a controversial immigration case. In 2005, Agriprocessors declined to recognize a union at the company’s Brooklyn warehouse, arguing that the workers who had voted to unionize were undocumented immigrants. While a number of courts have said the company must recognize the union, the company hoped higher courts would overturn those decisions. If the company manages to stay in business, the new Supreme Court decision means it will have to enter into bargaining with the union.

Production Stops in Iowa. Agriprocessors shut down its Nebraska slaughterhouse in October and was slowly halting various sectors of production in Iowa. But during the week of November 17, all production in Iowa was stopped, a company spokesman told The Des Moines Register. While the company’s bankruptcy proceedings have moved forward, a lawyer for the Rubashkins said in court that the company would likely be sold soon.

Another Kosher Line Ends. Sarah Lee announced on November 19 that it would discontinue its kosher lines, which include Best’s and Sinai Kosher. These products are all labeled under the less rigorous non-glatt kosher certification. Sarah Lee’s decision follows the closure of both Agriprocessors slaughterhouses as well as another leading kosher slaughterhouse in Minnesota.

Scrambling for Food and Electricity. Disaster relief efforts have been launched to help the Agriprocessors employees who are still living in Postville, Iowa without paychecks. The direst concern was that electricity might be cut off in local housing just as winter hits. The companies that own much of the real estate in town have not paid utility bills recently, but some fast thinking by Jeff Abbas, who runs the local radio station, got people registered so that their electricity would not be cut off. There also have been a number of separate food-relief efforts. Morris Allen, a Minnesota rabbi who has been a leading critic of Agriprocessors, led a drive to bring kosher food to the many Jewish families associated with the company. Abbas said that through the food drives he has run, “we’re going through 800 to 900 pounds of food a day.”



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