by Rochel Shlomo
America’s premier kosher slaughtering plant — Agriprocessors, a company which has worked tirelessly to bring affordable kosher meat and poultry to every far flung Jewish community, is under attack. The accusations throughout the media abound, and all seem to agree that something certainly is not “kosher.”
But there is a lot more that is “not kosher” going on.
For the past three years both PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the labor union United Food and Commercial Workers have been working around the clock, each with its own interests in mind, to destroy Agriprocessors. There never was a slaughtering plant that PETA loved, nor a factory, which resisted unionizing, that escaped the UFCW’s wrath, and so the same has been happening here.
This well-publicized smear campaign was taken to the national level. Then followed the unprecedented raid in May by federal immigration authorities, where workers were rounded up and thrown in jail without given due process.
And the outcries reached an even higher crescendo, but little for the legal and human rights of the poor workers. Only against Agriprocessors, despite the fact that they have answered many of the complaints leveled against them, such as hiring a qualified compliance officer, former U.S. Attorney Jim Martin, and professional OSHA specialists.
The key question is whether Agriprocessors was actually complicit in hiring illegal workers — an allegation the company firmly denies. They reported that applicants indicated a legal age and proof of citizenship on the papers they presented and that they had no reason or legal right to challenge the authenticity of those papers. This issue of hiring illegal workers is not unique to Agriprocessors, but is a national problem. There are approximately 13 million illegal aliens in this country and their labor fuels the economy of America, especially in states such as Florida, California and Arizona.
Two years ago, the world’s second largest nonkosher meat processing company, Swift and Company, was raided by the federal government and forced to close six of its plants. During this raid, however, the government took no action against the company management, in stark contrast to its treatment of Agriprocessors. Interestingly, it did not receive the media bashing that America’s No. 1 kosher meat packing plant has sustained.
But what is even more troubling is how so many Jewish and national publications have joined the chorus of accusations, despite the fact that the case has not even had its day in court. It is probable that some charges may ultimately prove correct, many of which Agriprocessors has already addressed.
But most will probably not hold up in court. The trumped up sum of over 9,000 child labor violations in fact is the product of the 32 underage employees multiplied by the number of days worked, making the violations appear grossly exaggerated. There is no evidence alluding to the alleged meth factory, or any records that indicate rabbis allegedly spent their time duct taping workers’ eyes. An officer conducting the raid found a mezuzah on a table and commented that there may be pipe bombs on the premises. The same workers who illegally deceived their employer by presenting false papers are the ones who now claim charges of abuse, in hopes of having their sentences commuted.
With 20 full-time USDA inspectors in the plant how could so many alleged infractions go on?
So something else is certainly “not kosher.”
Why has Agriprocessors taken more heat than Swift and Company or any of the others? Why has a kosher company been singled out in such an unprecedented way, when the entire meat industry employs illegals? Why is PETA and the media so aggressively focused on their case? Why all the uproar over Agriprocessors’ products to the point that organizations are proclaiming that they are “Rubashkin-free?” Shouldn’t we also stop purchasing products made in China, where we know that working conditions are substandard?
We are very close to Rosh Hashana, when we are reminded to not slander our fellow Jew, to judge another favorably and to assume innocence until proven guilty. This is the “ethical” and “kosher” Jewish way.
Agriprocessors has a “right” to their day in court. The fact that the company finds itself in this predicament today, may actually tell us as much about the accusers as the accused.
(Rochel Shlomo is co-owner of Sampo Distributors, the McKees Rocks-based distributor of kosher food products.)
-The Jewish Chronicle