Iowa Gov. Chet Culver denounced a kosher meatpacking plant accused of child labor violations, echoing Upton Sinclair’s disdain of cruelty toward immigrants.
The governor wrote a guest column in the Des Moines Sunday Register that criticized Agriprocessors Inc. in Postville for allegedly employing dozens of underage workers and taking advantage of a failed federal immigration system.
“In doing so, this company has fallen far short of meeting the high business standards that Iowans expect,” Culver said.
Culver closed his commentary with a reference to the 1906 muckraking Sinclair novel, “The Jungle,” about the horrors of the early meatpacking industry.
“There will be no industrial ’jungles’ in Iowa on my watch,” Culver wrote.
In May, a federal raid at the plant led to the arrest of 389 people on immigration charges. Hundreds of line workers have been convicted and charges have been filed against two low-level supervisors, but the plant’s owners haven’t faced any charges connected to the raid, Culver noted.
The Iowa Division of Labor Services this month accused Agriprocessors of employing dozens of underage workers.
In a written statement, Chaim Abrahams, a manager at Agriprocessors, said the company has provided jobs to hundreds of people and stimulated growth in Postville and throughout the state for two decades.
Abrahams invited Culver to visit the plant, meet with its leadership and “see the truth firsthand.”
“In the end, we are certain that the Governor will see firsthand that our plant is anything but a ’jungle’ and that when all the bitterness of the last few months is taken out of the equation, that we are indeed on a course to being on an even higher road,” Abrahams said in the statement.
Culver’s office on Monday said the governor decided not to visit the Postville plant at this time.
Abrahams said that the company’s policy is not to hire underage workers, and that if it finds any, they are immediately dismissed. He noted that the company has hired a former U.S. attorney as a compliance officer, and a former Occupational Safety and Health Administration official to monitor federal and state safety requirements.
When asked why Culver decided to write a guest column in the state’s largest newspaper, spokesman Troy Price said the governor was concerned about Agriprocessors’ alleged actions.
“All Iowans, not just those who work within his administration, have a right to know the level of the governor’s concerns and the fact that their government is acting responsibly in response to the disturbing reports,” Price said Monday.