A Closer Look Into the Struggle of the Agriprocessors Workers

Thanks so much to Morgan Currier for her guest post. Morgan is a high school Senior from Los Angeles, California. She has been an active member of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization for four years and as President of her Los Angeles region, she helps promote social justice to the teens in her community. Next year, she plans on studying social welfare at the University of Washington in Seattle.

When the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO) wanted to get their thousands of Jewish teens to take a stand against Agriprocessors, much of the public was displeased to say the least. When the organization made a public announcement that they planned on boycotting the company, negative comments flew. Many believed it wasn’t their place to get involved or that they didn’t have their facts straight. So they sent me, one of their passionate and interested members, to get the real story.

 

Alongside two Rabbinical students and a PBS film crew, I was given the opportunity to travel from my home in sunny Los Angeles, California to the isolated town of Postville, Iowa, home to Agriprocessors’ meat plant. Let me tell you, this town is like no town I’ve ever seen. Hours away from any major city, it holds about 2,000 people, mostly Hassidic Jews and Guatemalans. Although it only has one small main street, the town carries lots of charm and culture, which is unfortunately being destroyed as Agriprocessors slowly puts restaurants and stores out of business.

During my day there, I got to interview workers and hear their side of the story: you know, the stuff newspapers won’t print. They weren’t hesitant to tell me about their nineteen hour work days, unlivable wages, daily verbal and physical abuse, or the untrained children who worked with dangerous machinery. The list of laws Agriprocessors violated was almost as long as the list of 400 workers they turned their backs on during the INS raid in May.

So although I could now give those negative supporters a big “I told you so,” because I had proof that Agriprocessors was up to no good, the real problem was how to educate others and find an effective way to stand up against the issue. Because nobody wanted to listen to me shpiel about my experiences for hours on end (although I would gladly elaborate to anyone who would listen), I had to figure out a way to appeal to the teenage audience.

Though nobody will ever mistake me for a Steven Spielberg, I took the small amount of footage I shot there with my little Canon camera and turned it into a short documentary. With the help of YouTube and Facebook, I have been sharing this video and exposing the harsh realities that thousands of workers face everyday throughout the United States.

What I learned in Iowa affected me more than I can explain and I know this is only the beginning of my fight for workers’ rights. I’m young and short and would probably lose in arm wrestling, but if I have the power to make a change in the world, so do you. I encourage you to take a look at my documentary and see for yourself what’s being done in the land of the free.

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4 Responses to “A Closer Look Into the Struggle of the Agriprocessors Workers”

  1. Michael Makovi Says:

    As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel put it, “We’re a messenger who’s forgotten the message”.

    We’re so careful to be sure the meat is slaughtered just right, that there are no technical faults, that the salt is applied just right, that the food has all the right kosher certifications…and we forget all about the mitzvah of tza’ar ba’alei hayim(causing pain to animals).

    (Tza’ar ba’alei hayim: According to the halacha, one is allowed to cause as much pain to animals as is necessary for human welfare, but not more than that. For example, you can put a load on your donkey, and you can slaughter your cow, but you cannot overload your donkey, or let your cow suffer as it is slaughtered. When Bilaam whipped his donkey, and the angel reprimanded Bilaam, Maimonides (if I remember correctly) explains that Bilaam caused untoward and unnecessary suffering to his donkey.)

    And of course, not to mention the human workers! I should hope that no one needs any elaboration on this!

    Not so long ago, a NY kosher butcher was found to be selling blatantly unkosher meat, and he fled to Israel, out of literal fear for his life. And yet when Agriprocessors occurs, what do we get? Apologetics!

    Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th century Germany) would famously quip, “Glatt kosher? Glatt yoshor!” (Yoshor means ethical propriety. – cf. Hirsch’s descendant’s words at http://www.aishdas.org/asp/200.....r_21.shtml) Unfortunately, while Hirsch knew our message, Heschel is correct that the rest of us, by and large, do not.

    Morgan, kol ha’kavod and yasher koah on this.

  2. Marilyn Sneiderman Says:

    Morgan,
    Your commitment to social change and tikkun olam is inspiring! You are making a difference already! Marilyn Sneiderman

  3. Morgan Finkelstein Says:

    Way to go, Morgan. You’re inspiring so many others to stand up, and I’m so glad we have you to show us that we CAN do something if we actually commit to it.

  4. The Shmethicist Says:

    Morgan C – well done! I’m impressed by your citing of Upton Sinclair’s *The Jungle* — and there’s an unfortunate irony there that’s worth considering.

    Sinclair’s main motivation for his novel was to spotlight the horrific conditions under which workers were laboring and living. But the public outcry was more about the food processing. While it was a good thing that meatpacking became better regulated, the fact that government officials and consumers were more concerned with their food than with the people for whom Sinclair wrote so passionately echoes the way in which the suffering faced by workers at Agriprocessors has been obscured. You’re doing Sinclair proud to make your peers aware of it.

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