By Grace Lavigne
The Iowa attorney general is considering whether to file criminal charges against the owners of the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse for child labor law violations uncovered as the result of a massive immigration raid there in May.
Agriprocessors, in Postville, Iowa, could face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines as a result of 57 cases of alleged labor law violations uncovered by the Iowa Labor Commissioner’s Office.
Agriprocessors was the site of a massive federal raid in May that resulted in the detention of nearly 400 employees, including 12 juveniles, in connection with possible violations of immigration-related labor laws. This summer, claims emerged that underage workers were employed at the plant.
An investigation by the state indicated that at least 57 juveniles, ranging from ages 14 to 17, have worked illegally in the plant. Investigators found evidence of multiple labor-law violations in each of those 57 cases, according to The Des Moines Register.
The alleged violations include minors working in prohibited occupations, exceeding the allowable hours for working, being exposed to hazardous chemicals and working with prohibited tools.
Iowa’s child labor laws require permits for 14- and 15-year-olds and recommend certificates of age for teens ages 16 and 17, according to the Iowa Division of Labor Services. The laws also specify that 14- and 15-year-old teens may work four hours per day on school days and up to 28 hours per week during the school year.
In addition, Iowa child labor laws dictate that working at “slaughtering, meatpacking establishments or rendering plants” is too dangerous for teens.
Iowa’s labor department has asked the attorney general to file criminal charges, which are being considered, according to a spokesman there.
Company spokesman Menachem Lubinsky said Agriprocessors executives were unaware that some of their employees were underage. He said the company cooperated with the investigation, according to The Des Moines Register.
A spokeswoman for Iowa Workforce Development , a state agency, told The Register that the state investigation uncovered evidence that company officials might have been aware that children were working illegally in the facility.
Child-labor violations are prosecuted as criminal offenses in Iowa. Defendants in such cases are the employing corporations, not the individual executives who may have been responsible for the alleged wrongdoing, the development office said. The violations are misdemeanors, with each carrying a fine of roughly $50 a day.