On Tuesday, the O.U. announced it would withdraw certification from the kosher meat company, the nation’s largest, unless new management is hired.
The announcement came just hours after Iowa’s attorney general filed criminal charges against Agriprocessors and its owner, Aaron Rubashkin, for child-labor violations.
“Within the coming days, or lets say a week or two, we will suspend our supervision unless there’s new management in place,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack, the O.U.’s head of kosher supervision.
On Tuesday, the attorney general’s office charged Rubashkin, his son Sholom, and three human resources employees with more than 9,000 violations of Iowa’s Child Labor law, according to a statement from the attorney general’s office.
Former workers had alleged child labor violations at Agriprocessors almost immediately after a massive immigration raid at the plant in Postville, Iowa, the country’s largest kosher meatpacking plant. The company has denied having knowingly hired underage workers.
“All of the named individual defendants possessed shared knowledge that Agriprocessors employed undocumented aliens,” said the affidavit filed Tuesday in Allamakee County District Court.
“It was likewise shared knowledge among the defendants that many of those workers were minors. The company’s hiring practices encouraged job applicants to submit identification documents which were forgeries, and known to contain false information as to resident alien status, age and identity.”
The alleged violations, which date back to September 2007, are each punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of between $65 and $625, the attorney general’s office said. An initial court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 17.
Agriprocessors has been under the gun since a raid on May 12 resulted in the arrest of nearly 400 employees on illegal immigration charges. Following the raid, employees alleged they were shorted on pay, forced to work long hours and were the targets of sustained sexual harassment.
In May, the company announced that the Postville plant’s manager, Sholom Rubashkin, would be replaced. Months later, Rubashkin is still a regular presence at the plant and no replacement has been named.
The attorney general’s complaint represents the first criminal charges to be brought against the company’s owner and senior management.
Agriprocessors spokesman Chaim Abrahams said this:
“Agriprocessors vehemently denies these allegations and looks forward to trial so that it may put to rest the insidious notion that it knowingly employed underage workers. All of the minors at issue lied about their age in order to gain employment at the company.
“At the time of hiring, all of the minors, like all job applicants, presented and signed documents stating that they were over 18. They knew that, if they told the truth about their age, they would not be hired. In addition, the company’s Human Resources employees, if they suspected that an applicant was underage, routinely and regularly rejected the application until the applicant produced a birth certificate showing their true age.
“Whenever the company received notice that one of its workers might be underage, the company investigated and terminated any employee who turned out to be a minor.
“In order to convict, the State is going to have to prove that the defendants willfully violated the child labor laws. That means that the State, as to every one of the alleged violations, is going to have to prove that each defendant knew that the employee was underage on the day in question, and knew that it was against the law for the person to be employed in the manner alleged. The State will not be able to carry this burden of proof.
“Agriprocessors acted in good faith on the child labor issue. We look forward to our day in court.”