Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Kosher Labor Practices?

In yesterday's NY Times, the paper focused on the questionable labor practices of a Kosher meat processor, a company with problems all over the country: "Agriprocessors, the Brooklyn-based company that is the nation’s largest kosher meat producer, is well known for the labor troubles at its meatpacking plant in Iowa — federal agents detained 389 of its workers as illegal immigrants in May, and labor officials in Iowa have accused it of employing 57 under-age workers."

Now, however, Local 342 of the UFCW (and our client) is exposing similar shenanigans right here in NYC: "But Agriprocessors is also having labor troubles closer to home, with the company asking the United States Supreme Court to overturn a vote to unionize at its distribution center along the Brooklyn waterfront. If successful, the company’s appeal could have repercussions at companies across the country: it is trying to persuade the Supreme Court to rule that illegal immigrants do not have the right to join labor unions."

It seems that, according to the Times article, Agriprocessors wants to have it both ways-hire illegals so it can exploit them; and then contest their unionization because they are, well, illegal: "In September 2005, the company’s Brooklyn employees voted 15 to 5 to unionize, with one ballot challenged. The workers, most of them immigrants from Mexico, complained of low pay, not receiving time-and-a-half for overtime and not having health insurance or paid holidays.
“It was a dirty place to work, and they treated some of the workers real bad,” said Lucilo Brito, a former Agriprocessors truck driver. Days after the vote, Agriprocessors stunned its employees by announcing that it would not recognize the union because, it said, it had just discovered that 17 of the workers were illegal immigrants."

And we're sure that they were shocked by the discovery: "After Agriprocessors refused to deal with the union, 14 of the workers went on strike for seven weeks. The company responded by firing the strikers. (During the strike, union officials said, management hired day laborers from a nearby street corner, many of them illegal immigrants.)"

There are a number of issues with this company-and its union status is just one. As one blog poster points out:
"There has been a lot of press in the past year or two about how Rubashkin, the second biggest kosher meat producer, has mistreated both the animals it slaughters, and the workers in the plants it operates...Then the Forward published an article about how poorly workers were being treated at the Postville, Iowa plant that had previously been the subject of the PETA video. Among the many complaints were low wages (the cap was at seven dollars an hour for most workers), and no unions because the workers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants, are afraid of being deported. There were also reports of workers being shortchanged for hours they worked, and of supervisers demanding bribes from employees who want to change shifts, or help relatives get a job. Perhaps the most troubling issue in the article is the lack of safety training given to the workers at the plant. The Forward quoted one man who said he received no training at all, and learned what to do only by being chewed out for bad work."

It's about time that these workers at Agriprocessors get the same rights and benefits as the other Kosher meat employees at the Brooklyn wholesale market: "Ante Vulin, a butcher at International Glatt Kosher Meats, a unionized wholesaler directly across from Agriprocessors, said belonging to the union meant higher pay and better benefits.“What’s the purpose of leaving here when you don’t get more at another place?” said Mr. Vulin, who earns $20.25 an hour after 20 years on the job."

So what about the company's argument concerning the rights of illegals? This final comment from the Times highlights its absurdity: "Last Thursday, a butcher who had just finished the midnight-to-9 a.m. shift at the Agriprocessors distribution center said that the company had improved wages and conditions somewhat since the unionization vote three years ago. The worker said he was paid $8.50 an hour, got one week vacation a year and received time-and-a-half pay for overtime. “We don’t get health insurance,” said the worker, who insisted on anonymity for fear of retaliation. And in a candid moment, he acknowledged that he was an illegal immigrant."