Postville, IA – The Owners of Agriprocessors are at it again. The infamous kosher meat company, whose Iowa plant was raided in May and found to have hundreds of illegal immigrants working in substandard conditions, now wants to challenge a vote to unionize at its Brooklyn distribution center. The reason? Many of the workers who voted to unionize are illegal immigrants.
The company argues that employees who shouldn’t be in the country at all have no right to unionize. But the US Supreme Court ruled in 1984 that undocumented workers “plainly come within the broad statutory definition of employee” and that extending union protections to them is consistent with the intent of Congress when it wrote the National Labor Relations Act.
In the 1984 case, involving a Chicago leather-tanning operation, the Court found that denying illegal immigrants the right to organize could undermine the collective bargaining process by creating “a subclass of workers without a comparable stake in the collective goals of their legally resident coworkers, thereby eroding the unity of all the employees.”
It said that hiring illegals “can seriously depress wage scales and working conditions of citizens and legally admitted aliens; and . . . diminish the effectiveness of labor unions.”
Precisely. Intimidated, desperate immigrants are more willing to work for longer hours and less pay, which is why companies like Agriprocessors continue to hire them. That won’t change until the penalties for breaking the law are greater for business owners than a small fine.
Agriprocessors wants it both ways: to continue to exploit illegal workers, but not to give them a chance to improve their lot. If owners don’t want their illegal workers to demand better conditions, they shouldn’t hire them.