The Truth About Declining Wages Exposed in Postville

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The Postville raid was the largest in the history of the U.S. and I'm going to keep posting on it.  The other side often claims that "migrants bring wages for U.S. citizens down".  Harvard economist George Borjas is often their citation of choice.  I tend to see this in the same light as everything else migrants are blamed for -- healthcare, education, etc. -- migrants are straw men people hold up because they don't want to ask themselves the hard questions with all these issues.

The solution for increasing wages in the U.S. is not kicking every single migrant out, it is unionizing and collective bargaining.  That's why most labor unions, like the AFL-CIO, are supportive of legalizing undocumented migrants.  They know they can unionize undocumented migrants when they're legalized, and raise wages for everyone.  In the meantime, they see the way U.S. immigration laws are being enforced as being counterproductive to labor.  Raids are often used as a scare tactic, and employers are almost never punished for exploiting undocumented workers.
That's exactly what happened in the Postville raid, and Joshua Holland over at Alternet does a great job of explaining it in part of his latest post.

In this case, as in many others like it, many of the workers appear to have been seriously exploited. The AP reported that the plant's management "improperly withheld money from employees' paychecks for 'immigration fees,' didn't allow workers to use the restroom during 10-hour shifts, physically abused workers and didn't compensate them for overtime work."

According to MSNBC, workers at the plant were routinely started at $5 per hour for their first three or four months on the job and then raised to $6, still well below Iowa's minimum wage of $7.25.

Iowa Labor Commissioner David Neil confirmed to the Des Moines Register that Agriprocessors was being investigated by the state on suspicion of wage violations, paying people off the books and hiring underage workers. A copy of the federal warrant obtained by the Register described an incident in which "a supervisor covered the eyes of an employee with duct tape and struck him with a meat hook."

It's unclear what the raids' impact will be on the ongoing investigations into the company's workplace violations. With hundreds of workers -- and potential witnesses -- carted away, Jill Cashen, a spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), asked: "how can justice ever be served on these exploitation issues?"

Agriprocessor's management must have been pleased with the timing of the raid. Not only did it put at least a crimp in the ongoing investigations of serious allegations of abuse by the company, it also derailed an effort by UFCW to organize the plants' workers and give them a shot at bargaining with management for better working conditions.

There have been widespread reports of ICE raids coming during sensitive phases of union organizing drives. After rumors of an imminent raid emerged last month, UFCW's Mark Lauritsen wrote ICE officials urging them to follow their own guidelines by suspending "any potentially existing enforcement efforts and refus[ing] to be involved in this labor dispute." Lauritsen told the Des Moines Register that employers at other firms where UFCW had been organizing called in ICE raids themselves to intimidate employees before a union vote, and more generally, to associate union organizing with actions by La Migra in the minds of immigrant workers at other plants.

According to The Washington Post, Agirprocessors, Inc. argued in April that it could ignore a vote by workers at its Brooklyn distribution center to unionize because there were illegal immigrants at the facility who were not entitled to federal labor protections.

Sholom Rubashkin, whose family owns the company and who is described as a "top official" at the Postville plant, is a major Republican political donor, supporting the kind of politicos who champion these kinds of immigration crackdowns.

But Rubashkin is unlikely to be troubled by the action. After the raid gave his firm at least temporary relief from U.S. labor laws and pesky union organizers, the plant opened up the next morning ready for business -- it lost less than a single day's revenues. If recent history is any guide, Agriprocessors, Inc. won't even be fined. Despite the fact that 80 percent of its workforce was undocumented, the company is claiming that it had no knowledge of the violations. Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, released a statement noting that in 2007, DHS "fined only 17 employers for hiring undocumented workers." He added: "At least 7 million immigrants in the U.S. are employed illegally by a total of 6 million U.S. businesses, and DHS can find only 17 companies to fine?"

Enthusiasts of these kinds of crackdowns argue that they'll shrink the labor pool and help American workers. But the hundreds who continue working in the Postville plant today remain unprotected and are much further away from the kind of union representation that might have led to some decent pay, some dignity. And it's hard to imagine an experience that could give Agriprocessors more incentive to keep hiring "illegals."

That's what makes the approach so fruitless. Cesar Jochol, a native of Guatemala who runs a small market in Postville, told the Post, "You take away a hundred people. A couple hundred more will come tomorrow."

Joshua Holland - Alternet (21 May 2008)

Couldn't have said it better myself.   Help out Joshua in the comments section.  He's taking on some of that "progressive" migrant hate.


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3 Comments

John Wright said:

What I notice most about this blog is how close-minded you are to others opinions, and how much you hate and abuse everyone who disagrees with you. It is you who are consumed with the idea of assigning non-existant human rights to illegal immigrants, none of which are recognized by any sovereign nation, and it is you who ignore the Constitutional sovereign right of the citizens of this nation to be left alone to decide who should and shouldn't be permitted to enter this country. You are a sad and bitter fool who can't recognize a futile and meritless cause when you see one. Go back to Guatamala and join the communists, as you'll never be happy as a U.S. citizen. Your ingratitude to the country which made it possible for your emigration from your homeland is reprehensible. You don't care for our history or customs, so I fail to understand your desire for a continued presence here. Remaining here can only bring you continued unhappiness, but that's your decision, of course.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Dear John Wright,

I did not publish your other comment because it was just an article, and a generic "John Smith" also put up a NumberUSA press release that I did not publish.

First of all. Welcome to Citizen Orange. I don't think you've posted here before. Do you mind introducing yourself and telling us why immigration matters to you?

I'll be the first to admit my faults. I'm not as cordial to those on the other side of this debate as I should be, but I make an effort at civil conversation with everyone that comments here. You know a lot about me, mind telling me about yourself?

I do disagree with the general tone of your comment, and I ask if you post here that you try to move towards a solution with me, and have us try and move towards things we agree on rather than attack each other on the things we disagree on.

Needless to say, I do disagree with the general tone of your comment. "Non-existant human rights"? Are you saying migrants don't have any human rights? Communists in Guatemala? There are no more communists in Guatemala, and the one democratically elected president that leaned towards socialism in Guatemala was overthrown by the C.I.A. after pressured from the United Fruit Company.

I know more than most about U.S. history, and I admire the ideals of the U.S. a great deal, I just want to see the U.S. live up to them. I've frequently been told that I should go back to Guatemala, or that I should be deported. Some would like everyone they disagree with to be deported, but I know that's not what the U.S. is about.

symsess said:

John Wright,

Thanks for the cordial comment. Is it this blog that's hostile to others or you? A point that has been made here in the past is how people such as yourself are quick to speak of a migrant's lack of respect for our laws; yet you find it so fitting, as a guest, to attack us. Do you always ask those you disagree with to leave? Do you attempt to insult anyone with a different view than yourself? Not only is that undemocratic, but is seems awfully lonely.

What people such as yourself need to realize is that we care about you, but you're not the one that needs to be defended here. It's actually rather hard to defend people while they're throwing stones at you, but our desire is that everyone work together. Would you rather side with people that are constantly looking for a fight or with those constantly looking for a compassionate solution? Sadly it's myopia that is causing nativists to hold their position. You must obtain a peripheral vision if you want to see real change.

Hopefully, as kyledeb asked, you'll take the time to speak with us and rather than simply throw stones.

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This page contains a single entry by kyledeb published on May 21, 2008 1:02 PM.

Clarifying the Postville Raid was the previous entry in this blog.

Perez Hilton is Pro-Migrant! is the next entry in this blog.

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