Workers Take Heat from ICE
By Marty Ryan, Legislative Director of the ACLU of Iowa.
“They didn't get me for robbing or murdering. They got me for working”
Irma Hernandes, Postville resident and Agriprocessors employee
meetings on bills during the session of Iowa’s General Assembly can
result in the emergence of some very fascinating information, and a bit
of entertainment now and then. During a subcommittee meeting on Senate
Study Bill 3286, a bill relating to wage payment collection and
employment classification, an interesting exchange took place
between John Gilliland, lobbyist and senior vice president of the Iowa
Association of Business and Industry (ABI), and Senator Joe
Bolkcom (D-Iowa City).
Uh, yeah, I have this problem with Section 11 of the bill; the part
that holds the top ten largest shareholders personally liable for
rubbing his chin: [after pausing for a while to read the
section] Yeah, I see what you mean, John. Ten is probably too
many. What do you suggest? Five?
John: No, no, that’s not what I meant.
Well, then, what are you saying, John? No one individual should
be responsible for paying wages due to an employee?
passed out of subcommittee and out of the Senate Ways and Means
Committee and became Senate File 2416. It was never brought up
for consideration (debate) in the Senate and died when the Legislature
adjourned for the session.
had flaws, but it’s too bad that some provisions were not enacted prior
to May 12 when federal agents stormed a meat packing plant in Postville
to eventually take away over 300 of its employees in handcuffs.
Why? The employees didn’t have proper documentation.
owner and corporate shareholders shrugged their shoulders. They
had no idea (wink, wink) that some of their employees were
now that that federal government has whisked them away from the
area, the problem is all over. Or, is it? Were these
workers paid? Were they paid fairly? Legally? Slavery is a
constitutional violation. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude,
except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly
convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject
to their jurisdiction. That’s the 13th Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution. It brings to mind words rarely used anymore:
peonage, serfdom, Russian chattel, military draftee.
Labor Commissioner Dave Neil has confirmed that, prior to the May 12
show of intimidation in northeast Iowa, a state investigation was
underway, possibly leading to labor law violations against the
Agriprocessors plant in Postville. Speculation has it that many
of the potential allegations include violations of child labor laws.
an ongoing investigation, and I can’t really get into the specifi cs,’
Neil said. As many as eighteen juveniles were detained in the
raid. The United Food & Commercial Workers International Union had
been conducting an effort to organize the workers within the
plant. Mark Lauritzen, UFCW international vice president, had
urged Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in a May 2 letter
to delay a raid at the plant so that possible OSHA investigations could
be completed. It’s almost as if reporting problems to the right
hand of the government gets the left hand of the government involved.
Yang, so to speak. All of this came down as though Agriprocessors
requested the raid. The UFCW has to start almost from
scratch; witnesses in workplace violations may have
vanished, either on their own accord, or by governmental intervention;
and workers who were hauled away in handcuffs – over 300 of them most
likely will not see what would be their last paychecks, accrued
vacation pay (if it even exists), and any other benefits, that at a
minimum, might be owed to the former loyal employees.
So much for business ethics. With employers like Agriprocessors, why are unions often considered the bad guys?
very much that Agriprocessors is a member of ABI, but sitting in that
subcommittee meeting last spring I couldn’t help but wonder what
businesses John Gilliland was representing when he fought to keep top
executives and shareholders from being personally liable for paying
employees the just wages they deserve.
always, it’s the worker who takes the heat. If the law put the
corporate board of directors in jail for a day or two the ‘problem’
would cease to exist. The rich always live by different rules,
mainly because they pay to make the rules, or in this case, the
laws. SF 2416 should have been given some consideration. I’m
looking forward to the day when photojournalists take snapshots of the
CEO and nine other shareholders being led from a plant in
handcuffs. Or, I’ll compromise, John. Five is a nice
number. But don’t tell me that individual shareholders are
oblivious to the conduct of the corporation, or that they shouldn’t be
held responsible. If wealthy shareholders call the shots, they
should take the shots.