Los Angeles - As legal troubles at the country’s largest kosher slaughterhouse continue to mount, critics of the Postville, Iowa, plant are urging stronger government action.
On July 3, two supervisors were detained by federal authorities in the first instance of management-level arrests at Agriprocessors, Inc. The arrests come on the heels of a sweeping May 12 raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, in which 389 Agriprocessors employees — the majority of them undocumented workers from Latin America — were taken into custody in the Bush administration’s largest immigration raid to date.
And yet, some critics are lambasting the government for not moving faster to hold the plant’s owners — the Rubashkin family from the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn — accountable for the laundry list of ethical and legal problems that have arisen in recent years at the meatpacking plant.
“One part of me hopes, for justice’s sake, that this is just the beginning of this phase of the Agriprocessors story, and the beginning of legal actions taken against management,” said Rabbi Henry Jay Karp of Temple Emanuel, a Reform congregation in Davenport, Iowa, referring to the arrests. “But the other part of me is afraid that this may be some sort of scapegoating, that legal action toward management will end here.”
The acting director of the Jewish Labor Committee, Rosalind Spigel, echoed Karp’s concern that the top brass at Agriprocessors might not be held accountable. While she said that the arrests were “a step in the right direction,” she added that it was “too little, too late.” “I think that the government abdicated its responsibility,” she said.
Bob Teig, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, said that the investigation is ongoing. He declined to speculate as to whether more arrests were forthcoming.
A spokesman for Agriprocessors, Juda Engelmayer, denied any wrongdoing on the part of the Rubashkins. He said that they would “cooperate with anything that needs to be cooperated with” and that they planned to continue with business as usual.
Juan Carlos Guerrero-Espinoza, 35, and Martin De La Rosa-Loera, 43, were arrested on charges of helping workers obtain false identity documents and encouraging them to reside illegally in America. Federal officials are still seeking another Agriprocessors manager, 43-year-old Hosam Amara, reportedly of Palestinian descent.
In a glimmer of good news for the Rubashkins, the Orthodox activist group Uri L’Tzedek, which previously had called for a boycott of Agriprocessors’s products in light of evidence of worker mistreatment, reversed its stance. In a July 8 statement, Uri L’Tzedek announced that because Agriprocessors had retained a chief compliance officer, James Martin, to implement changes at the beleaguered plant, it had refined its position. Martin is a former senior federal U.S. attorney.
“We believe that through hiring Mr. Martin, Agriprocessors is beginning to take significant steps towards directly addressing the concerns of the Jewish leaders and consumers who signed our May 23rd letter,” the statement said.
The letter, addressed to Aaron Rubashkin, expressed concern over reports of worker abuse.
In recent weeks the Jewish Labor Committee began circulating its own petition aimed at secular Jews, rather than the Orthodox. The petition, which has garnered some 300 signatures, calls for kosher meat consumers to refrain from buying Agriprocessors products.
Rabbi Menachem Genack, the head of the kashrut division at the Orthodox Union, was traveling and could not be reached for comment.