Iowa Public Television


New Owner Says Production Increasing at Postville Slaughterhouse

posted on April 16, 2010

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A Postville kosher slaughterhouse that went bankrupt after a federal immigration raid nearly two years ago is growing and on target to return to earlier production levels, its new owner said Tuesday.

Hershey Friedman, the owner of Agri Star Meat and Poultry, said at a Statehouse news conference that the company had put its troubled past behind it. It has begun producing beef again, continues to hire more workers and has modernized its plant with help from the state.

"We feel we can grow back to the same place they were," Friedman said.

It's been a difficult couple of years for the company, formerly known as Agriprocessors.

Federal agents raided the plant in May 2008, arresting 389 workers for immigration violations and triggering an investigation that led to the company's bankruptcy and convictions of several top managers, including vice president Sholom Rubashkin. Rubashkin is scheduled to be sentenced April 28 on a number of federal financial fraud charges.

Agriprocessors still faces state charges related to alleged child labor and wage and hour violations, but they don't affect Agri Star.

Friedman, who bought the plant in July 2009, declined to comment on Rubashkin but said the new company was eager to build a better reputation.

"I'm not from Iowa, and I did not grow up on a farm, but I know the importance of hard work and treating people with respect and integrity," he said.

Friedman said Agri Star has begun slaughtering about 90 head of cattle each day. That's far below Agriprocessors' peak production, but Friedman said he plans to increase slaughtering to 150 head of cattle within the next month and to have the plant running at Agriprocessors' production level in about a year.

Managers are taking steps to avoid the labor problems seen under Agriprocessors, Friedman said. They use the federal government's E-verify system to validate new hires' identification. Agri Star also pays more, with most of its 560 workers making $8.50 to $17 an hour, he said.

Postville Mayor Leigh Rekow attended the news conference and said the northeast Iowa town was hurt by Agriprocessors' closure but is doing better now.

"With the plant opening, all these people have hope again," Rekow said. "Our community has been very positive that we will survive, and we will get back to where we were and maybe even be better."

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and Iowa Cattlemen's Association Vice President Bruce Berven also attended the news conference, offering their support to Friedman and testifying to the importance of the Postville plant.

The company received a $600,000 grant last November, plus tax credits, to help pay for upgrades to the plant.

Tags: crime economy immigration Iowa jobs news