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|Headquarters||Postville, Iowa, USA|
|Area served||North America|
Agriprocessors is the corporate identity of a slaughterhouse and meat-packaging factory that is in an incorporated area of Postville, Iowa, best known as a facility for the glatt kosher processing of cattle, as well as chicken, turkey, duck, lamb, and veal. It is the largest kosher meat-packing plant in the United States.
The firm was founded by Aaron Rubashkin, who purchased the meat-packing facility in 1987. Two-thirds of Agriprocessors' output is non-kosher and is marketed under the brand Iowa Best Beef. Its kosher products are marketed under the brand names Aaron’s Best, Shor Habor, Supreme Kosher and Rubashkins. The CEO for most of 2008 was the founder's son, Sholom Rubashkin, who was arrested on October 30, 2008 for harboring illegal aliens. The firm filed for bankruptcy on November 5, 2008 following a series of alleged violations of labor law and repeated accusations of mistreatment of cattle.
Rubashkin opened the Postville plant in 1987. Rubashkin, a Brooklyn butcher, made plans to take advantage of economic structural changes to bring mass-production and economies of scale to the kosher meat production business. Postville, a town undergoing a major employment crisis would eventually become the site of his plant. In the 20 years since its construction, AgriProcessors has had a major impact on the town - with new jobs, and an influx of Jews. The impact of the plant has often been controversial, including frequent citations for illegal practices, including the knowing recruitment of illegal immigrants and inducing them to work in often dangerous conditions at illegal wages. The plant and the cultural and legal problems surrounding it were the subject of the 2000 book Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America.
The Rubashkin family opened a new processing plant in conjunction with the Oglala Lakota native-American tribe of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Gordon, Nebraska in 2006. The presence of the plant near an Indian reservation provides considerable tax breaks for Rubashkin, while the plant employs some 100 locals. Governor Dave Heineman presented a $505,000 gratuity check to Rubashkin on behalf of the city of Gordon, part of an incentive package that brought the factory to the town.
Animal abuse controversies
In late 2004, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a video filmed undercover at Agriprocessors, showing gory details of cattle having their tracheas and esophagi being ripped out of their necks and surviving for minutes after shechita. Noted animal welfare expert and meat scientist Temple Grandin called Agriprocessors procedures an "atrocious abomination" and worse than anything she had ever seen in over 30 kosher abattoirs.
Jewish authorities were split, with former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, David Rosen, and Shechita UK, along with many non-Orthodox rabbis from the Conservative movement, criticizing Agriprocessors, while Orthodox kashrut organizations continued to stand by the kashrut of the meat. An internal report from the USDA not only held that Agriprocessors engaged in acts of inhumane slaughter, but that USDA inspectors were sleeping on the job, playing computer games, and had accepted bribes of free meat to ignore violations at the plant.
On June 27, 2006, at the suggestion of Rabbi Menachem Genack of the Orthodox Union, Temple Grandin toured the facility. According to the Orthodox Union, Dr. Grandin was satisfied with what she saw. In 2008, though, Grandin reported that Agriprocessors had again become "sloppy" in their slaughter operation and was "in the bottom 10%" of slaughterhouses.
Another PETA undercover video, reportedly taken on August 13, 2008, showed violations of the the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act, including the use of saw-like, multiple, hacking cuts in the necks of still-conscious animals. Temple Grandin said the second cuts would “definitely cause the animal pain.” Furthermore, these instances represent additional violations of kosher law. The episode led Grandin to state that slaughterhouse visits were useless for determining proper animal treatment. Grandin suggested that Agriprocessors install internet video cams on the killing floor for constant, independent, oversight.
In September 2005, workers at Agriprocessors’ distribution site in Brooklyn, New York, voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers union. The company challenged the vote, claiming that the majority of workers who voted were in the US illegally, making their votes invalid despite protection granted undocumented workers in the National Labor Relations Act. Workers alleged that Agriprocessors paid low wages, failed to pay overtime and immediately terminated employment of workers who complained about conditions or wages.
On August 20, 2008, the approximately 70 rabbis, along with some other Jewish workers, employed at Agriprocessors staged a 30-minute walkout over delayed payment of wages and other compensation issues.
In October 2008, the Iowa Labor Commission fined Agriprocessors $9.99 million for various violations of state labor law, including illegally deducting money from employees for safety equipment and failing to pay employees.
A December 2008 story in the Village Voice featured allegations of sharp business practices by the Rubashkins: intimidating rivals (with threats of physical violence), manipulation of the kosher certification system, collusion with suppliers to withhold supplies from competitors, etc.
Starting in 2004, city authorities started an investigation against Agriprocessors due to complaints from local residents that they routinely deposited untreated effluence into local rivers in breach of regulations. On August 31, 2006, Agriprocessors signed a consent decree where they essentially admitted discharging untreated slaughtering wastewater into the Postville sewer system, in violation of Federal and Iowa State law and paid a $600,000 fine for violating waste-water regulations.
Untreated wastewater from abattoirs is a heavy burden on wastewater treatment plants because of its high biochemical oxygen demand and high concentration of FOG (Fats, oils, and grease) which can form insoluble plaques in sewerage pipes.
Federal immigration raid
On 12 May 2008, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) staged a raid that was described as the largest of the year. Federal authorities arrested hundreds of illegal immigrant workers during the raid. ICE spokesman Tim Counts said that "The raid was aimed at seeking evidence of identity theft, stolen Social Security numbers and for people who are in the country illegally" . According to the U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District of Iowa, those arrested "include 290 Guatemalans, 93 Mexicans, 2 Israelis and 4 Ukrainians" . Sources quoted in the affidavit and application for search warrant alleged the existence of a methamphetamine laboratory at the slaughterhouse, and that employees carried weapons to work. However, later press reports do not indicate that a methamphetamine laboratory was found during the search.
The Rubashkin family was reported in the Cedar Rapids Gazette on June 5, 2008, to have denied any criminal activity; Aaron Rubashkin said that he did not know "workers were illegal and that they had produced what appeared to be legitimate work documents". Yet, in an earlier labor relation case discussed below, the firm had made use of the argument that it knew that some of the employees at another of its facilities, in Brooklyn, NY, were illegal immigrants.
The ICE raid left the company lacking employees, and it hired Labor Ready to supply "about 150 workers", but these workers stopped working because of alleged safety issues. The Jacobson Staffing company took the job of staffing the plant shortly thereafter.
In June 2008, Agriprocessors began hiring workers from homeless shelters in Texas to replace employees detained in the federal immigration raid.
As of October 2008, Agriprocessors owners and managers were charged with 9,311 misdemeanor charges for illegally hiring minors and allowing them to operate dangerous equipment.
5W Public Relations impersonating rabbi critic
In June 2008, Agriprocessors hired 5W Public Relations in an attempt to repair its tarnished public image. Shortly thereafter, a large number of suspicious posts defending the company appeared on Jewish blogs critical of the company. Shmarya Rosenberg, author of the Failed Messiah blog, revealed 5W's sockpuppeting scheme on his blog after two fraudulent posts appeared under the name of Rabbi Morris Allen of Hechsher Tzedek, a critic of Agriprocessors. Similar comments impersonating Rabbi Allen were found on the websites of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Vos Iz Neias. Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5W, admitted that a "senior staff member failed to be transparent in dealing with client matters."
Agriprocessors also hired Lubicom, a kosher consulting and PR firm headed by Menachem Lubinsky, to present the Agriprocessors case to the New York Jewish community. Lubinsky was quoted as saying he "expected 5W to deal with negative publicity and blogs."
Denounced by Iowa Governor
In August 2008, Iowa Governor Chet Culver denounced Agriprocessors:
|“||Before the federal raid, Agriprocessors already had a history of sanctions by Iowa’s state regulatory agencies for water pollution, as well as health and safety law violations. Alarming information about working conditions at the Postville plant - including allegations ranging from the use of child labor in prohibited jobs to sexual and physical abuse by supervisors; from the nonpayment of regular and overtime wages to the denial of immediate medical attention for workplace injuries - brought to national attention by the raid forces me to believe that, in contrast to our state’s overall economic-development strategy, this company’s owners have deliberately chosen to take the low road in its business practices.||”|
Child labor violations
On September 9, 2008, Agriprocessors, its owner and three of its current or past managers were each charged with more than 9,000 violations of child labor laws.
On October 30, 2008, former CEO Sholom Rubashkin was charged with abetting aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory two-year minimum sentence. Sholom Rubashkin, the son of Agriprocessors owner Aaron Rubashkin, was CEO from 1987 until being removed after the May 2008 immigration raid.
Rubashkin was arrested again on November 13, 2008 at his Postville home on Federal charges of bank fraud. These new charges were due to the fact that under his direction millions of dollars that were supposed to be deposited in an account as collateral for a loan were fraudently diverted to another account, and were used to fraudulently increase the value of Agriprocessors accounts receivable. After the money was diverted Rubashkin ordered the records of these transactions removed from company computers. Rubashkin now faces up to 30 years in prison on these new charges.
In January 2009, an additional 99 federal charges were filed against former CEO Sholom Rubashkin and three former managers for money laundering, making false statements, failing to make required payments for livestock, and 25 additional bank-fraud charges.
The first conviction in the immigration cases occurred on March 20, 2009 when Juan Carlos Guerrero-Espinoza, a supervisor at the Postville plant, was sentenced to three years in federal prison. He had pled guilty in August 2008 to one count of conspiracy to hire illegal immigrants and one count of aiding and abetting the hiring of illegal immigrants. The single-count pleas imply that Mr. Guerrero-Espinoza may serve as witness against others in the case.
On November 5, 2008 Agriprocessor filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Factors cited included declining demand for the firm's products, and increased costs in the aftermath of the May 2008 immigration raid. The Associated Press reported that "Agriprocessors in its bankruptcy filing said the company owed $50 million to $100 million to creditors. The move appears to be an effort to pre-empt foreclosure by a St. Louis bank, which sued Agriprocessors for defaulting on a $35 million loan."
In December, the bankruptcy court approved a $2.5 million loan for Agriprocessors to allow it to resume poultry processing through at least January 9, 2009 (about 750,000 chickens). The company is currently run by Chapter 11 bankruptcy trustee Joseph E. Sarachek of Triax Capital Advisors.
Kosher beef shortage
Agriprocessor's problems led to a shortage of kosher beef and higher prices nation-wide. Empire Kosher, the largest US producer of kosher poultry, added kosher beef to its product line, beginning production in September 2008.
- ↑ Iowa Best Beef
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Former Agriprocessors supervisor pleads guilty chicagotribune.com
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 Agriprocessors web page
- ↑ Lydersen, Kari (October 31, 2008). "Former CEO of Iowa Kosher Meatpacking Plant Is Arrested". Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/30/AR2008103004617.html?hpid=sec-nation.
- ↑ USDA Investigating Kosher Meat Plant, Alan Cooperman, Washington Post, December 31, 2004
- ↑ Strangers in Our Midst, E. J. Graff, The American Prospect, November 22, 2001
- ↑ Company History of Agriprocessors
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 Tribe, Jewish family open kosher packing plant, Joe Duggan, Lincoln Journal Star, Jun 30, 2006
- ↑ PETA Video showing animal abuse (Caution: graphic)
- ↑ New York Times, Videos Cited in Calling Kosher Slaughterhouse Inhumane
- ↑ Statement of Rabbi David Rosen, Former Chief Rabbi of Ireland
- ↑ New York Times, Inquiry Finds Lax Federal Inspections at Kosher Meat Plant
- ↑ "Prof. Grandin is Satisfied With AgriProcessors Slaughter Practices" Orthodox Union web site
- ↑ "Animal rights expert endorses Kosher plant", The Forward, July 07, 2006
- ↑ Waddington, Lynda (September 11, 2008). "Slaughter expert calls Agriprocessors ’sloppy’". Iowa Independent. http://iowaindependent.com/5357/slaughter-expert-calls-agriprocessors-sloppy.
- ↑ Kosher Plant Is Accused of Inhumane Slaughter
- ↑ PETA hidden camera exposé costs Agriprocessors support of key expert
- ↑ Nathaniel Popper, "In Rubashkins’ Backyard, Another Tale of Labor Strife Kosher Giant Turns To Supreme Court in Fight With Immigrants", Jewish Daily Forward, mirrored at , retrieved 2008-08-18
- ↑ "Worker walk-out at Agriprocessors further disrupts production". Iowa Independent. August 20, 2008. http://iowaindependent.com/4303/worker-walk-out-at-agriprocessors-further-disrupts-production.
- ↑ Drahn, Sharon (November 22, 2008). "Week full of troublesome events for Agriprocessors, Inc. in Postville". Postville Herald-Leader. http://www.waukonstandard.com/main.asp?SectionID=24&SubSectionID=103&ArticleID=45092&TM=75076.43.
- ↑ Elizabeth Dwoskin, "The Fall of the House of Rubashkin", Village Voice, 2 December 2008, retrieved 13 December 2008
- ↑ AgriProcessors to Pay $600,000 in Environmental Case | Region 7 | US EPA
- ↑ AgriProcessors Inc. Wastewater Settlement
- ↑ Schultz, John (April 26, 2007). "Northeast Iowa Citizens For Clean Water (NICCW) has reached an agreement with IDNR, Agriprocessors and the city of Postville concerning pollution limits on a new wastewater permit for Agriprocessors.". Waukon, Iowa Standard. http://www.waukonstandard.com/main.asp?Search=1&ArticleID=36358&SectionID=16&SubSectionID=&S=1.
- ↑ Immigration Raid Jars a Small Town - washingtonpost.com
- ↑ "Hundreds Are Arrested in US Sweep of Meat Plant". New York Times. May 13, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/13/us/13immig.html?em&ex=1210910400&en=9fdf0d884661bdeb&ei=5070.
- ↑ Adam Belz, "Agriprocessors hires legal assistance", Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 5, 2008, p. B1.
- ↑ Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 1, 2008, p. 2B
- ↑ Ben Harris, "Agriprocessors brings homeless from Texas to keep Iowa plant open", Jewish Telegraphic Agency, August 20, 2008.
- ↑ Jackson, Henry C. (November 21, 2008). "Iowa meatpacker fined nearly $10M over violations". Associated Press. http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/K/KOSHER_SLAUGHTERHOUSE?SITE=NCASH&SECTION=INTERNATIONAL&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT.
- ↑ Forward, Flacks for Agriprocessors Admit Online Impersonation of Meat Company’s Critics
- ↑ Jerusalem Post, Agriprocessors' PR company accused of identity theft
- ↑ Forward, Meat Company’s P.R. Firm Acknowledges Responsibility of ‘Senior Staff Member’ in Online Deception
- ↑ Weiss, Anthony (June 26, 2008). "Kosher Meat Giant Kicks Off P.R. Blitz". The Forward. http://iowaindependent.com/4510/culver-compares-agriprocessors-to-sinclairs-jungle-outlines-state-response.
- ↑ Waddington, Lynda (August 24, 2008). "Culver compares Agriprocessors to Sinclair’s jungle, outlines state response". Iowa Independent. http://iowaindependent.com/4510/culver-compares-agriprocessors-to-sinclairs-jungle-outlines-state-response.
- ↑ CNN.com - Slaughterhouse charged with using child labor, September 9, 2008
- ↑ http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/31/us/31immig.html Federal Charges for Ex-C.E.O. at Meatpacker
- ↑ Franzman, David (2008-11-14). "Agriprocessors Former Plant Manager Arrested Again". KCRG. Cedar Rapids Television Company. http://www.kcrg.com/news/local/34460534.html. Retrieved 2008-11-17.
- ↑ "Grand Jury Returns Indictment Against Meatpacker". KCRG. Cedar Rapids Television Company. 2008-11-21. http://www.kcrg.com/news/local/34887714.html. Retrieved 2008-11-21.
- ↑ More fed charges against Agriprocessors exec
- ↑ Associated Press (2009-03-20). "Iowa: Sentence in Immigration Case". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/20/us/20brfs-SENTENCEINIM_BRF.html. Retrieved 2009-04-08.
- ↑ http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/us/06immig.html Large Iowa Meatpacker in Illegal Immigrant Raid Files for Bankruptcy
- ↑ Cowles, Isabel (2008-12-03). "Agriprocessors Wins Funding Despite Debt and Controversy". http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/Americas/2008/December/Agriprocessors-Wins-Funding-Despite-Debt-and-Controversy.html. Retrieved 2008-12-03.
- ↑ 
- ↑ "Building on Agriprocessor's Strength, Trustee Points Way to Sale in New Year". 2009-01-07. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Building+on+Agriprocessor%27s+Strength,+Trustee+Points+Way+to+Sale+in...-a0191719980. Retrieved 2009-02-23.
- ↑ Ain, Stewart (September 17, 2008). "Empire Striking Back At Agriprocessors?". New York: Jewish Week. http://www.thejewishweek.com/viewArticle/c41_a13438/News/Short_Takes.html.
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