Culver: Agriprocessors owners have "deliberately chosen to take the low road"

Governor Chet Culver took the unusual step of publishing a guest editorial in the Sunday Des Moines Register about alleged wrongdoing at the Agriprocessors meat-packing plant in Postville:

The sad events surrounding the [May 12] federal Postville raid, resulting in multiple federal criminal-law convictions of line workers and low-level supervisors – and, notably, not yet of the company’s owners – are strong evidence of a company that has chosen to take advantage of a failed federal immigration system.


Before the federal raid, Agriprocessors already had a history of sanctions by Iowa’s state regulatory agencies for water pollution, as well as health and safety law violations. Alarming information about working conditions at the Postville plant – including allegations ranging from the use of child labor in prohibited jobs to sexual and physical abuse by supervisors; from the nonpayment of regular and overtime wages to the denial of immediate medical attention for workplace injuries – brought to national attention by the raid forces me to believe that, in contrast to our state’s overall economic-development strategy, this company’s owners have deliberately chosen to take the low road in its business practices.

He said he had directed members of his cabinet to make sure Iowa law is being enforced with Agriprocessors. Furthermore, open positions at Agriprocessors may not be included on state job-listing services “due to the unsafe working conditions at the Postville facility.” In addition, he called on Attorney General Tom Miller “promptly to prosecute all alleged criminal and civil-law violations that are backed by sufficient evidence.”

On Friday the Iowa Division of Labor Services released a statement citing 31 new and repeated safety violations at Agriprocessors’ plant in Postville.

If any Bleeding Heartland readers keep kosher, you may be interested in this piece by Lynda Waddington for Iowa Independent. She describes a “kosher social seal” program, which signifies that food not only meets Jewish ritual requirements but has also been produced in a humane and socially responsible manner.

Meanwhile, John Carlson reports in his latest Des Moines Register column that a local radio personally has written lyrics called “Palau to Postville – a Topical/Tropical Tale.” They are meant to be sung to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme. He was inspired by “reports last week that an employment recruiter has been trying to entice people in the Pacific island of Palau to come to work for the [Agriprocessors] plant.”

UPDATE: A spokesman for Agriprocessors says the company is drafting “a forceful response to the governor’s guilty verdict even before trial.”

The same article goes on to say:

Several business and political experts said Culver’s criticism was unusual, but they applauded it.

“I think it’s out of the ordinary. But then again, I think Agriprocessors is a little out of the ordinary, too,” said Mike Ralston, president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry.

Ralston’s group includes most large Iowa employers, but not Agriprocessors. He said he wouldn’t want Culver to make a habit of publicly criticizing specific businesses. However, he said Agriprocessors’ notoriety has damaged the state’s reputation, making it fair game for the governor’s ire.

About the Author(s)