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HR Staff Face Charges in Iowa for Child Labor Violations

By Bill Leonard  9/18/2008
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The owner and three HR managers of the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, face criminal charges for more than 9,000 violations of the state’s child labor laws.

The charges stem from an investigation launched by the Iowa Workforce Development Commission following a federal immigration raid on May 12, 2008, by officers with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). During the raid, the ICE investigators found 389 undocumented immigrants working at the Agriprocessors Inc. plant. Among the undocumented workers, investigators determined that 32 were underage (younger than 18) and that seven were under the age of 16.

The charges filed by the Iowa Attorney General on Sept. 9, 2008, allege that the underage workers handled dangerous equipment, such as circular saws and meat grinders, and that they were exposed to noxious chemicals. According to the attorney general’s affidavit, the company records show instances of children under the age of 16 working before 7 a.m. and after 7 p.m. while school was in session.

“The records of Agriprocessors Inc. also confirm, as alleged by each of the employee-victims, that each of these employees worked more hours of overtime each week than that for which they were compensated,” the complaint stated.

The attorney general’s office charged the defendants with 9,311 misdemeanor violations of child labor laws—one for each day that a particular violation is alleged for all 32 underage workers.

Defendants named in the complaint are the company, Abraham Aaron Rubashkin, principal owner and president of Agriprocessors Inc.; Sholom Rubashkin, manager of the Postville slaughtering and meat packing plant; Elizabeth Billmeyer, human resource manager, and Laura Althouse and Karina Freund, who are both management employees in the human resource division.

“Each defendant, either as principal or as aider and abettor, hired children, retained the employment of children observed working throughout the plant, and/or participated in efforts to conceal children when federal and state labor department officials inspected that plant,” the attorney general’s complaint stated.

Althouse and Freund also face federal immigration charges related to the ICE raid in May and appeared in the U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids on the same day the attorney general filed the state charges.

At a news conference Sept. 9, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said the case is the largest of its type that he had seen during his 26 years as the state’s top law enforcement official. The state charges carry a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $625 fine.

Chaim Abrams, a manager with the Agriprocessors Postville plant, issued a written statement saying that the company “vehemently denies” the allegations and had “acted in good faith on the child labor issue.”

“All of the minors at issue lied about their age in order to gain employment,” the statement read. “They presented documents stating that they were over 18, and they knew that, if they told the truth about their age, they would not be hired.”

Bill Leonard is senior writer for SHRM Online.

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