Attorney says state wouldn’t release names of suspected minors

WATERLOO — An attorney who represented Agriprocessors testified Wednesday (May 26) that state labor inspectors didn’t give the company a list of suspected minors at the Postville meatpacking plant before the 2008 immigration raid.

Mary Funk, who works for a Des Moines law firm, said she was the conduit of information between Agriprocessors and Iowa Workforce Development when the issue of minors came up.

She took the stand as the defense team for former plant executive Sholom Rubashkin began its case. Rubashkin is charged with 83 counts of child labor violations for allegedly employing underage workers. He is also awaiting sentencing for federal fraud charges.

Funk said Agriprocessors human resources employee Elizabeth Billmeyer told her the company didn’t hire anyone under age 18. She was told the plant asked for some form of identification when a person applied, and if they had doubts about an applicant’s age, they would ask for an original birth certificate.

She said Billmeyer told her about firing workers who were discovered to be underage during an earlier incident

Funk said the company had been working with labor officials to set up an inspection of the plant in the spring of 2008, but the review was postponed because of the May 2008 immigration raid.

She said that before the raid, labor officials had indicated they had names of suspected minors working at the plant but wouldn’t turn over a list to the company. It was her understanding labor officials didn’t want to release the names because the investigation was ongoing.

The refusal meant the minors continued to work at the plant until the day of the raid.

Under cross-examination by the state, Funk acknowledged that labor officials had requested the personnel files of some 100 workers at the plant. But she said that list inlcuded workers who were obviously over age 18.

PICK UP MORNING TESTIMONY (BELOW) ________________________________________

By Jeff Reinitz
Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

WATERLOO — A former operations manager at Agriprocessors disputed claims that other workers told him there were minors working at the Postville meatpacking plant.

Gary Norris, 59, who now works for Agri Star, was the defense’s first witness Wednesday (May 26) in the trial of former Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin.

Rubashkin is charged with 83 counts of child labor violation in state court. He also is awaiting sentencing on federal fraud charges in connection with loans the slaughterhouse received.

Norris told jurors Mark Spangler, a supervisor at the plant, never told him about concerns that underage workers were on the floor at Agriprocessors.

Spangler had been a prosecution witness earlier in the trial and testified that Norris said, “What do you expect, they are a bunch of kids,” when he approached Norris about worker behavior.

Norris also testified about giving a tour of the plant to labor inspectors in April 2008, a month before the immigration raid.

Earlier, state witnesses told jurors that supervisor Jeff Heasley told people to hide workers who looked underage on the day of the tour.

But Norris told jurors that he himself didn’t know the reason labor inspectors were in the plant — to look for possible underage workers — until after the tour.

He said the only time he heard about underage employees was when a human resources employee earlier had identified one worker as a minor and fired her.

Under cross-examination, Norris identified Sholom Rubashkin as the company’s CEO and said finance and human resources reported to him.

Norris said it was difficult to judge the ages of workers. He said many were from Guatemala and were short in stature. He also noted they were dressed in warm clothing and in safety gear that made them look like the “Michelin Man” when they worked.

“It is difficult for me to determine the age of anyone,” Norris said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *