Jewish Labor Committee condemns abusive employers

Agriprocessors Statement 
Rosalind Spigel, Interim Director
Jewish Labor Committee 
July 2, 2008

The Jewish Labor Committee condemns any employer on moral and legal grounds who abuse workers and their rights under the law.

Since first becoming informed two years ago, the JLC has opposed the practices of Agriprocessors with regard to its workers.

Given the workforce at Agriprocessors was largely composed of undocumented workers, the JLC recognizes that these workers need to be brought into compliance with the law and face the legal consequences of their decisions.   Equally, we support fair treatment of workers regardless of where they were born.   Two employees working side by side are entitled to the same pay and protections under the law.  

Our country  has a tradition of taking advantage of vulnerable populations and then blaming them for our economic problems.   Jewish immigrants experienced this acutely at the turn of the century. Immigrant s are scapegoated as the reason Americans are getting poorer and are accused for “taking our jobs.”   The real problems are unscrupulous employers  who take advantage of  a workforce unable to speak the language,   and fearful of arrest and deportation,   a broken immigration policy, unfair trade  policies, lopsided labor laws, faulty mortgage lending practices and a tax system gone awry.

Just as the immigrant workers at Agriprocessors need to answer to the law, so too should the employers.   Employers who threaten and harass their workers, short their pay, put their health and safety at risk, and hire children must also be brought into compliance with the law and face the consequences of their actions.   The conditions under which documented and undocumented workers endured were clearly contrary to Jewish values.   We uneasily witness the impact of families being torn apart and held in detention on one hand, while the employers  -- after repeated violations of the law – are neither held responsible nor taken to account.  

While arguably necessary, ICE raids are inherently troublesome.   In this case, the timing of the raid in the midst of a union organizing drive, sends a chill to any employee in a diverse workforce who wants to complain about labor practices or right the wrongs of labor practices.   Along with enforcing immigration laws, the government should have also enforced labor standards, health and safety codes, environmental protections, threats to public health, sexual harassment and child labor laws.   In our opinion, enforcement of these measures should have come first.  

Our Jewish religion and tradition is clear on topic of treating workers with dignity and respect. Our sacred texts command us to pay workers decent wages in a timely manner and Jews have a long history of fighting for the rights of workers. Furthermore, as Jews, we are told that we must treat our workers decently and justly.   Until Agriprocessors establishes its commitment to these responsibilities, we urge consumers of kosher meat products to seek alternatives to the Rubashkin labels.  

Rosalind Spigel, MSOD
Acting Director
Jewish Labor Committee
1816 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
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New York, NY 10010
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mobile: 215-432-5357