The May immigration raid at Agriprocessors Inc.'s Iowa plant, which resulted in the arrest of 389 illegal immigrants, continues to have abundant negative fallout for the company and its workers. Yet, although the raid garnered national headlines, of more significance to workers everywhere is the ongoing struggle of Agriprocessors’ New York employees to organize and the company’s effort to thwart them.
Three years ago, employees at the meat processing company’s Brooklyn distribution center voted to unionize, but Agriprocessors would not honor the vote. The National Labor Relations Board ordered it to do so. Instead, it is petitioning the Supreme Court to hear a case arguing that illegal immigrants do not have the right to join labor unions. If it wins, the company’s apparent business model -- using illegal immigrants until caught but denying them union protections -- could usher in a new era of worker serfdom.
This should alarm people on all sides of the immigration debate -- those who favor stepped-up deportations and sanctions against employers of illegal immigrants, as well as those who support increased labor and civil rights for immigrants. Should Agriprocessors prevail, illegal immigrants would be vulnerable to even greater human rights and labor abuses than they are now, and employers would have more incentive not to hire U.S. citizens, who have the right to organize.
The Supreme Court settled this question in 1984, ruling in Sure-Tan Inc. vs. the National Labor Relations Board that the National Labor Relations Act clearly pertains to illegal immigrants unless they fall under the exemptions determined by Congress -- agricultural laborers and domestic workers, people employed by spouses or parents, independent contractors and those employed by a business not subject to the act. None of those exemptions apply to Agriprocessors. Furthermore, in January, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington stated in its ruling against Agriprocessors that the right of illegal immigrants to unionize protects U.S. workers by assuring “that the wages and employment conditions of lawful residents are not adversely affected by the competition of illegal alien employees who are not subject to the standard terms of employment.”
With its immigration-related labor woes in Iowa, where it runs the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking plant, you’d think Agriprocessors would have learned its lesson. Instead, like immigrants who keep coming back after being deported, it’s doing all it can to exploit every crack in the United States’ broken immigration system.