May 12 ICE Raid Save Company from Union Organizing Campaign

May 12, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 2008.

That was the day Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents besieged the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa.

At the time, it was the largest immigration raid in U.S. history.

Nearly 400 workers, mostly from Guatemala and Mexico were rounded up, detained and arrested on charges of identity fraud and entering the United States illegally.

The raid was part of a nationwide campaign targeting suspected undocumented workers.

The raid essentially killed two birds with one stone.

It quashed the union organizing campaign the UFCW had been waging for over two years.

It also dashed the hopes of Department of Labor investigators looking into allegations of substantial abuses at the plant.

UFCW leaders noted the raid served to eliminate hundreds of witnesses to labor violations at the plant.

The raid did uncover at least 29 cases of child labor violations, with children as young as 13 working on the killing floor.

But Minneapolis UFCW organizers maintained that company agents routinely followed UFCW reps on home visits and threatened workers they spoke with.

They noted that “wages are extraordinarily low, basic worker safety and protection is miserable.

It’s intensified by the fact that this employer was able to come up with a more vulnerable workforce and abuse it over the long haul.”

These workers were quickly convicted, jailed and then deported.

They were soon replaced by a fresh wave of Somali refugees, who complained of the same low wages and poor working conditions.

The company was eventually fined for countless violations and its CEO arrested. It emerged from bankruptcy under new ownership and has yet to be organized.

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