Wednesday, August 27, 2008
We've written a lot about the immigration raid at Agriprocessors' Iowa plant. Apparently, that's not the company's only problem, as their Brooklyn facility has been enmeshed in a long-time labor dispute. According to the Jewish Daily Forward:
Workers at the warehouse eventually voted in September 2005 to join the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which has also been involved in a scrappy battle to represent the workers at Agriprocessors’ Iowa slaughterhouse. After the election in Brooklyn, the company came back with an unusual argument. Lawyers for Agriprocessors said that the company had determined that 17 of the 21 workers who had voted were undocumented immigrants. Their status had not been brought up before, but after the union vote the company said that the immigrants were not eligible for employment, much less union membership. The workers went on strike and were soon replaced.
Since then, three rounds of judges have ruled that Agriprocessors must recognize the union, pointing to a 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision that granted undocumented immigrants protection under the National Labor Relations Act. The company has appealed these decisions, and at the end of June, lawyers for Agriprocessors petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. The company’s petition argues that “if the votes of illegal workers are counted in union elections, unions may have an incentive to encourage illegal aliens to conceal their undocumented status.”
Experts in labor law say that the Agriprocessors case is not likely to be heard by the Supreme Court, due to the 1984 ruling, but the case has already succeeded in maintaining the status quo at the Brooklyn warehouse for three years. “Every day that goes by is one day less that they have to negotiate” for a contract, said Alvin Blyer, regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that has overseen the Agriprocessors case. “This delay is certainly very financially beneficial.”
Beyond the legal issues, the situation in Brooklyn opens a window onto the way Agriprocessors has treated workers outside its flagship Iowa slaughterhouse, and suggests that the complaints about working conditions that have arisen in Iowa were not isolated.
The situation at the Brooklyn plant also answers questions that have gone unanswered in Iowa. Most notably, it is unclear if the company knowingly employed undocumented workers, such as those who were arrested during the raid in Iowa. The company has pleaded ignorance. But the Brooklyn case suggests that long before the raid in Iowa, the company knew it had undocumented workers in its ranks and knew how to find them — when it was to the company’s benefit. Immigrant advocates say that the Brooklyn plant paints a clear picture of what this has meant for immigrant workers. . . .
One interesting point in the story, is that this facility also houses two other kosher meat-processors that are unionized, which underscores the point that a union isn't a business-killer. As for Agriprocessors' legal argument, it's dead-on-arrival unless the Supreme Court wants to overrule Sure-Tan. But, as the article emphasizes, even a loser case helps the employer because--particularly when employees have voted for a union--justice delayed is justice denied.
Read the full article--it's got a lot more detail on the dispute.