Culture, Justice

Rubashkin's: Update and Next Steps

Since our call for donations, St. Bridget’s has received approximately forty thousand dollars. That’s real money. That’s real money that is making sure people have food, that their rent is paid, that they are getting legal representation, and that is reuniting families. Also, Rubashkin’s has responded to our lead. They have given meat (what else?) to the workers’ families, and are negotiating a way to pay the families at least part of their lost wages.
Bottom line – Yasher Koach. Thank you for donating and thank you for spreading the message. Our little campaign has made a difference. Now it’s time to move on, to figure out what the next steps are. Here are some ideas.

  • Research: We need to find out what is actually going on in Postville, and in all Rubashkin’s plants. How many plants are there? How many people work there? What are their conditions? How much are they paid? Where do their animals come from? How are the animals treated? How much of the market does Rubashkin’s actually control? These questions and more we need answers to. Anything we do needs a clear goal, and to come up with a goal for the future we need to understand the present.
  • Boycott: We can stop eating Rubashkin’s meat. Now, consumer boycott’s don’t work so well, and we don’t necessarily represent a large consumer base, but, we can have an impact indirectly. When you go to make your purchases, ask your local butcher, grocery store, restaurant, where they get their meat. Most meat is the same in quality in America, and your average buyer is only looking for the best deal. If he hears people don’t want Rubashkin’s, he might change, even for only a few consumers. Remember, no one is walking into a store demanding that it only buys Rubashkin’s.
  • Pressure the OU: Thanks to a teacher I know for this idea. The OU gives Rubashkin’s their kosher certification. While the OU has dismissed the idea of hechsher tzedek, they have in the past revoked certification for other moral issues. Perhaps direct pressure, over this specific problem, could lead them to revoke their certification or at least engage Rubashkin’s. We might not have much power directly over Rubashkin’s, but the OU does.
  • Alternatives: If we want to make this work, we need to offer alternatives. There are a few small independent kosher meat processing plants, but they are few and far between. The only large, national alternative is Hebrew National. (ahhh.. I hear your gasp) Hebrew National was the standard in kosher meat for years, well into the 1970’s. Then, a policy decision of the OU sent Hebrew National out of favor, and now it’s regarded as only slightly more kosher than Oscar Meyer. However, all of that is unfounded. The more I read and the more people I speak to, the more I hear that Hebrew National is as kosher, and now with everything we know probably more kosher, than Rubashkin’s is. It is a real possibility we need to explore – bringing Hebrew National back into the fold.
  • Reduce: Even after we get past this storm, our problems are not solved. The meat industry in general, and the kosher one in particular, has lead us down a dangerous path. Our current meat industry is not sustainable, and is not particularly profitable either. Producers constantly need to find ways to squeeze the last pennies out of their beefs, and that means abusing workers, mistreating animals, and injuring our environment. Any actions we take have to keep in mind the long term picture, and that will involve significantly reducing our meat consumption. It’s scary, and it won’t be easy, but it is something we need to do.

These are just the first ideas that I have. There is much more that can be done and I want to hear from you about the initiatives we should follow. Also, let’s not forget. Rubashkin’s is not some horrible evil that needs to be eradicated. It is a company, that in the pursuit of profit has made mistakes. They are severe mistakes, but they can be corrected. We need to figure out what we want Rubashkin’s to do better, and hold them accountable. Once the company changed, it should be welcomed back into our community, and applauded for following Torah, producing truly kosher food, and doing the right thing for themselves, for Jews and for our entire community.

6 thoughts on “Rubashkin's: Update and Next Steps

  1. I think most people (self included) could stand to eat a little less overall food then we already do, meat notwithstanding.
    The film, “A Sacred Duty,” puts a lot of the environmental impact of our current meat industry in perspective. It’s worth checking out.

  2. There is no reason in the world for us to not eat Hebrew National. At this point, refraining from Hebrew National should be restricted to those who believe that literalism of the Torah preempts accepting macro-evolutionary theory.

  3. “Also, Rubashkin’s has responded to our lead. They have given meat (what else?) to the workers’ families…”
    OK…I know I’m not supposed to think any of this is funny. And it’s not-but that is frikkin hilarious!
    I’m a bad person. I know.

  4. As far as my knowledge goes, there was a period when Hebrew National did have serious kashrut questions. For decades, it was under the supervision of in-house Rabbi Tibor Stern, who refused to answer calls from outside rabbis or allow independent site visits. The situation changed in the past decade, when following the death of Rabbi Stern, Hebrew National switched to the supervision of Triangle-K (Rabbi JH Ralbag), and allowed outside rabbis, such as members of the Rabbinical Assembly visit the plants. Under these changed conditions, I will eat Hebrew National. However, the only caveat id that the meat is not Glatt – not a problem for most, but which means that it won’t be acceptable to that small slice of the market, or in some communal functions.

  5. Agriprocessors:
    Jewish Labor Committee Policy Statement
    New York: May 23, 2008 — As an organization committed to the defense of human rights, the Jewish Labor Committee has long condemned the abuse of workers by any employer for any reason. For this reason, the JLC has vigorously opposed the employment practices of Agriprocessors, Inc. since we first learned of them two years ago.
    In reviewing the complaints of Agriprocessors’ employees, the JLC learned that there is a clear pattern of employer negligence and even lawlessness. Among the most troubling practices by Agriprocessors are:
    • abuse of child labor laws;
    • failure to pay workers the full amount of wages they have earned;
    • unnecessary exposure of workers to dangerous — even life-threatening — working conditions;
    • sexual harassment.
    The JLC has also learned that Agriprocessors is actively waging a campaign of intimidation and harassment against workers who have expressed an interest in exercising their legal right to union representation.
    In this atmosphere, it is clear that the recent ICE raid at Agriprocessors, though apparently legal, only buttresses the conviction shared by many undocumented workers that our government is not only indifferent to worker abuse, but works in collusion with management to penalize workers who challenge it.
    While there are many differing perspectives regarding immigration reform, the American Jewish community shares a common conviction that all workers — regardless of their immigration status — must be free to exercise their rights and challenge employer abuses. Our belief is grounded in the collective memory of American Jewry of the gross exploitation of Jewish immigrants by employers who, like Agriprocessors, abused and robbed them of their right to dignity in the workplace.
    Judaism is clear on the topic of treating workers with dignity and respect. We understand that we must treat our workers decently and justly, ethically and legally.
    For this reason we call on Agriprocessors to live up to the responsibilities of corporate citizenship, end its campaign of worker abuse, and respect the rights of its employees including their legal right to union representation. Until Agriprocessors establishes its commitment to these responsibilities, we urge consumers of kosher meat products to seek alternatives to the Rubashkin labels.

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