Lag b’Omer 5768
May 23, 2008
Mr. Sholom Rubashkin
220 N West St
Postville, IA 52162
Dear Mr. Rubashkin,
We write to you out of a deep sense of ahavat Torah and ahavat Yisrael, with both great respect and great concern.
Your company produces 60 percent of the beef and 40 percent of the chicken provided to the kosher marketplace in America. You employ 968 factory employees and serve as a pillar of the food economy. Your generous philanthropy supports moral and significant causes and is a great source of pride for Israel and Jewish institutions around the world. You are an important and respected leader of the Jewish community.
Therefore it is with great frustration and sadness that we write this letter. We are the kosher meat consumers of America. We are mothers and fathers raising our children in a kosher home. We are rabbis, teachers, and Jewish professionals who use your products in our work. Since you control much of the kosher meat market in America, we rely on you to uphold the halakhic requirements, both ritual and ethical, of the food we eat. We believe you have failed, and we are deeply troubled.
- We are deeply troubled that you have demonstrated a pattern of knowingly exploiting undocumented workers, to paying them less than market wages and treating them poorly.
- We are deeply troubled that according to many experts, the wages you pay your workers are the lowest of any slaughterhouse in the nation.
- We are deeply troubled that, despite years of public inquiry and concern over worker conditions at your plant, AgriProcessors was cited for 39 new health and safety violations in March 2008. It pains us to hear that examinations of Agriprocessor's OSHA logs reveal amputations, broken bones, eye injuries and hearing loss that occurred at your plant.
- We are deeply troubled that animals have been abused against the laws of tzaar baalei chaim, causing needless pain to animals.
- We are deeply troubled that among the hundreds of workers who were arrested by federal officials on May 12, eighteen were children between ages 13 and 17.
- We are deeply troubled to read reports of various criminal operations taking place at the Postville plant, the account of a Jewish floor supervisor who severely abused a Guatemalan worker in the most reprehensible conditions, and allegations of sexual assault and verbal abuse.
On your website, you state as your values that “as a producer of kosher meat products, we approach our business in the context of a deep religious tradition.” Undoubtedly you agree that our shared deep religious does not approve of these practices, and we therefore write this letter in the spirit of the mitzvah of hocheiach tochiach et amitecha, to give rebuke where it is needed so that a fellow Jew can make right what is wrong.
We ask the following:
1. Pay all of your workers at least the federal minimum wage.
2. Recommit your company to abide by all federal, state and local laws including those pertaining worker safety, sexual harassment, physical abuse, and the rights of your employees to collective bargaining.
3. Treat those who work for you according to the standards that Torah and halakha places on protecting workers--standards which include the spirit of lifnim meshurat hadin, going beyond the bare minimum requirements of the law.
In order to ensure that you meet these modest requests, we ask that you establish a department and staff with external transparency to a reputable, objective third party to deal exclusively with these three concerns. We ask that you maintain this office on an ongoing basis to ensure the basic ethical standards demanded by Torah, the U.S. government, and the American Jewish community.
Until these changes are made, we feel compelled to refrain from purchasing or consuming meat produced by your company, and will pressure every establishment with which we do business to cease purchase of your meat. Effective June 15, 2008 we will stop patronizing any restaurant that sells your meat.
Mr. Rubashkin, you have been a leader in the kosher meat industry, and we look forward to seeing you lead the way for all American meat processors, not only in the kashrut of your products, but in the kashrut of every aspect of your business.
אודך בישר לבב בלמדי משפטי צדקך
I will give thanks to You with upright heart, when I study Your ordinances that are righteous.
תהלים קי"ט:ז Psalms 119:7
1In Iowa Meat Plant, Kosher 'Jungle' Breeds Fear, Injury, Short Pay, The Forward. May 26, 2006
2Agriprocessor's Safety Problems, Des Moines Register, May 14, 2008
3AgriProcessors In. Inhumane Slaughter, Conflict of Interest, Bribery. United States Department of Agriculture, 2005
4Detainees moved from NCC grounds, Waterloo Courier, Thursday, May 15, 2008
5Application and affidavit for search warrant, Case Number: 08-MJ-110, Court of the Northern District of Iowa
In addition to all of this, there was apparently a meth lab on the premises!?
- To those who don't understand why hiring illegal workers is problematic because, like me, you think that immigration to this country should be liberalized: I don't think it's unethical to hire illegal immigrants. However, it is unethical to underpay them because they're illegal and can't complain, and to fail to protect their safety ("examinations of AgriProcessor's OSHA logs reveal amputations, broken bones, eye injuries and hearing loss that occurred at your plant") because they're illegal and can't do anything about it. It is also unethical to hire children to do the work of adults.
- I am 100% comfortable refraining from purchasing any meat that comes from Rubashkin's, whether at the local supermarket or at a restaurant. I don't eat red meat that often, and it's easy enough to get chicken from Empire (which I am told uses unionized labor) or Vineland at least here, so that's not difficult.
- I am not sure I am willing to refrain from eating anything at any restaurant that uses Rubashkin's. Instead, I think I might ask where the meat comes from before ordering, and if they say either Rubashkin's or that they don't know/won't tell me (I've heard of many places saying this recently), then, instead, ordering fish or pasta or some other meat-less dish. The reason I have a problem with not eating anything at any restaurant that uses Rubashkin's is that (1) it unfairly punishes the struggling kosher restaurants and (2) I am currently avoiding dairy and soy in deference to my digestive system's preferences, so meat restaurants are sort of the only "safe" place for me right now. If (2) weren't true, I would just go exclusively to dairy restaurants which is pretty much how I used to operate.