The Truth About Declining Wages Exposed in Postville
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.
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.