Postville, IA – Rabbinic leaders visiting the Rubashkin (Agriprocessors) plant on Thursday of last week were quite impressed with the manner in which the employees are treated, as well as the plant’s general method of operation. They interviewed clergymen, town officials from Postville, Iowa, and federal inspectors and compliance officers. The rabbis also saw a saintly-looking man, Mr. Aaron Rubashkin, at the helm of the organization, whom gentiles and Jews alike describe as a very charitable man who has fed the poor of every community he has ever lived in for over four decades.
“Everything we saw was diametrically opposed to the rumors that we heard before we went,” said Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice-president of the National Council of Young Israel and a resident of Far Rockaway, who organized the mission and led the group that came from 15 cities in the U.S. and Canada. Rabbi Lerner’s sentiments were shared by the other members of the mission. “It was important that we went and saw for ourselves. We saw a clean, modern, and friendly environment. We asked a lot of questions and spoke to many workers. We were impressed by what we saw and what we heard.”
Since what they saw was in such stark contrast to the rumors floating about concerning the plant, the question arises: Where is the lashon ha’ra coming from?
Indeed, at the rabbinic leadership visit, the mayor of Postville decried the damage to Postville that the allegations have caused. If Agriprocessors were to close down, the economic harm to Postville’s residents would be incalculable. The question is thus quite pertinent. Who, or what, is behind the campaign to destroy this company?
The answer, believe it or not, is not so hidden. In 2005, United Food and Commercial Workers, a labor union, embarked upon a campaign to unionize the Iowa-based plant. So far it has failed. In response to its failure, the UFCW has, by its own admission, embarked upon a vicious campaign to pressure Agri to unionize.
The campaign has resorted to placing devious advertisements in newspapers. One such incident involved ads, placed by UFCW in Jewish newspapers across the country, falsely implying that the K’hal Adath Jeshurun kashrus organization (KAJ) made decisions based upon worker issues. Luckily, the New Jersey Jewish Standard was not fooled by the UFCW tactics and called KAJ to verify the facts. Eric Erlbach, president of KAJ, said that his organization did not allege any violations of health or kashrus law.
Accusations have been coming forth from UFCW spokesman Scott Frotman. In a past statement, Frotman said, “Agriprocessors is operating as a renegade in this industry and it is important that they are held accountable for their actions.” Yet when respected leaders held their interviews and examination, they found no credibility to such allegations. Indeed, Five Towns Jewish Times interviews back up the views of the visiting rabbis and members of the Jewish media
The UFCW has been attempting to battle declining membership for years. According to filings with U.S. Department of Labor, in 2002, the UFCW national membership totaled 1,380,507. In 2003, over 21,000 members stopped paying their dues and left the union. While union leadership was certainly alarmed, in the next year, 2004, another 20,000 members quit. In 2005, the number of disgruntled members rose to more than 27,000, causing union membership to plummet to only 1,311,548 nationwide.
What caused the members to leave? The UFCW leadership may have something to do with their departure. In late 2005, the former assistant to the president of UFCW International, Joseph DiFlumera, was sentenced for mail fraud, racketeering, and extorting more than $1.5 million from a grocery chain. According to court records, DiFlumera told prosecutors that he would offer an “insurance policy” that allowed a company to “come under the umbrella” of protection from union organizing. DiFlumera “repeatedly advised these individuals that the monies paid to him were handed over to the president of Local 1445 and the UFCW. The defendant insisted that if these monies were not paid by the company the company would suffer extreme economic harm.” The Rubashkins are not the only corporation that has been subjected to UFCW pressure. The UFCW has been attacking Wal-Mart and other corporations, as well. Smithfield Foods, a North Carolina corporation, was subjected to a horrific pressure campaign. Smithfields Foods, however, is a bit more sophisticated than the Rubashkin family in fighting back.
According to Tracy Gibler, a 2007 Drake Law School graduate and an analyst at the Center for Union Facts, “Smithfield Foods is currently engaged in litigation against the United Food and Commercial Workers union and is successfully pushing back against the union’s vicious campaign. A federal court has refused to dismiss Smithfield’s RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act claims against UFCW, saying that Smithfield had a property right (a RICO Act requirement) to recognize the union “without interference by or involvement from the union.”
“The very existence of the Corporate Campaign concept is founded on the recognition that the exercise of that right is of great import and of great consequence,” the court noted. “Until the unions prevail in a valid NLRB certified election,” it is this intangible, but no less valuable, property right that is capable of being extorted by the defendants through the use of corporate campaign tactics, the court concluded. As such, the company has stated a cognizable RICO claim. The union responded by arguing that their conduct was merely coercion and not extortion.
The UFCW leadership is not without unsavory characters. Indeed, since 2001, the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor Management Standards has prosecuted dozens of UFCW officials for criminal activity. For example, in Denver, Colorado, on October 6, 2005, Stephen L. Bush, a former Recording Secretary for Food and Commercial Workers Local 990, was sentenced to six months’ home detention with electronic monitoring and five years’ probation for embezzling more than $20,000 of union members’ money. Another example: Rebecca Bandt, the former president of UFCW Local 717, found guilty, fined, and imprisoned for embezzlement on March 24, 2006. This was discovered by an investigation of the Milwaukee branch of the Office of Labor Management Standards.
But these are individuals. What about the organization itself? If they are, in fact, so unsavory, why has the government not come down on them? It has. Since 2000, the National Labor Relations Board’s CATS has tracked thousands of allegations against the UFCW, ranging from close to 1,200 allegations of failing in their duty of fair representation to 71 allegations of incidents of coercive statements. There were 66 allegations of threatening statements and 9 allegations of assault. Of course, these are only allegations and we must extend the UFCW the same courtesy of innocence until proven guilty that should be granted the Rubashkins concerning allegations by UFCW.
For those who still believe that the UFCW is concerned for the workers, let’s take a look at UFCW salaries. Doug Dority, former UFCW president, made well over $700,000 in salary and benefits. Close to 300 UFCW local leaders make well over $100,000 per year. A November 2006 article from UFCWreform.org found a major disparity between the needs of union members and the bosses representing them. The average UFCW member earns between $25,000 and $30,000. This means that a significant portion of UFCW members have earnings below the U.S. federal poverty level. In fact, if union salaries of UFCW officials were capped at $100,000 per year, members would save over $18 million a year. This would be the second highest savings in the country for a union.
There is no question that UFCW has embarked on this campaign against Rubashkin, because they have admitted on record that they have done so, just as they are trying to do to Smithfield Foods and to Wal-Mart. The question, rather, is, How has the Jewish community and the media allowed the UFCW to attack and damage a company like Rubashkin and stand idly by?
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