A kosher meatpacking plant in northeast Iowa, that was the site of the largest immigration raid in U.S. history in May, is now facing the potential for roughly a million dollars in fines for child labor violations.
Kerry Koonce, spokesperson for the Iowa Division of Labor, says the investigation at Agriprocessors in Postville could be the biggest child labor investigation ever conducted in the state."Without going back and looking through the records, I would say it’s certainly one of the largest," Koonce said.
The state’s investigation has produced 57 individual child labor violation cases, with multiple violations in each case. Koonce says some of the alleged violations include minors working in prohibited occupations, exposure to hazardous materials and exceeding the allowable hours that 14 and 15 year olds can work.
The case has been turned over to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office for prosecution. Koonce says Agriprocessors, if found guilty of all the allegations, could face fines of up to a million dollars. The state’s investigation was hampered by the federal immigration raid, which led to the arrest of nearly 400 suspected illegal workers.
The Labor Commissioner’s Office is still waiting for paperwork from the feds which could lead to additional child labor violations. "There’s also a separate wage violation investigation going on, meaning whether employees were paid their appropriate wages" Koonce said. "That investigation is separate from the child labor investigation."
Earlier this year, Agriprocessors was assessed $182,000 in fines for 39 violations of workplace health and safety. The Labor Division reduced the fines to just under $43,000 after Agriprocessors officials promised to correct the problems identified in the plant. Koonce says any fines levied against the company in the child labor investigation won’t be reduced by the state agency.
"The negotiation processes for child labor is not the same as what you would have for violations of health and safety," Koonce said. "Violating child labor laws is actually a criminal prosecution. Therefore, at this point and time, it would be up to a judge to make any decisions and the Attorney General’s Office to make any settlements." The child labor investigation at Agriprocessors was launched in January of this year.