Agriprocessors Is The New Artscroll

Just as the Modern Orthodox love bashing Artscroll (the hugely successful Jewish publishing company run by the super-Orthodox), they now love bashing Agriprocessors (the hugely successful meat packaging plant run by the super-Orthodox).

One of the criticisms of Agriprocessors is that they employ illegal immigrants. Well, to the best of my knowledge, every shul in Los Angeles and every kosher restaurant and every kosher market and every shmatta (clothing) business employs illegal immigrants.

You could complain that Agriprocessors is cruel to the animals it slaughters.

Hello, slaughtering by definition is cruel. It is the taking of life. If Agriprocessors upsets you so, you should go vegetarian.

You could complain that Agriprocessors does not pay its employees "a living wage."

Who decides what is a "living wage"?

As far as I know, nobody is forced to work at Agriprocessors.

If that is so, then you can only argue that you as a middle-class white person know better than an illegal Mexican immigrant about where he should work. These illegals choose to work at Agriprocessors because it is superior in their estimation to their other potential employers. If you close down Agriprocessors, these illegals aren’t going to get high-paying jobs at General Motors. They’ll have to struggle to find other low-paying work because they only have minimal skills.

If you force Agriprocessors to pay a higher wage than economics dictates, the company will hire fewer employees and use more automation.

You could complain that Agriprocessors is not a safe working environment.

Well, nothing is perfectly safe. We all do the best we can. I blog for a living and as a result, my elbows are killing me. I choose to keep blogging for a living despite the low income it gives me because I prefer this work to all other alternatives, just as the illegal Mexican immigrants prefer working at Agriprocessors to all other alternatives. Why are you so sure that you as a liberal white man know better than the Mexicans about what is good for them? If these Mexicans quit working for Agriprocessors, they’re not going to find other employers who pay much better and give significantly safer working conditions.

Life is dangerous, particularly for low-skilled illegal immigrants. The best solution can only come from these illegals — they can choose to educate themselves and their children and develop skills and values that lead to long-term economic and social success. We smart hard-working middle-class white people can not impose these values on them.

Jews are mad at Agriprocessors because it’s making us look bad. We think of ourselves as morally superior. Now these news stories come along about a chareidi-run meat processing plant and we’re mad. Not because Agriprocessors is any worse than any other meat packing plant, goyish or Jewish, not because it’s animals and workers have it so bad, but because these news stories make us look bad. I don’t know that it’s the reality of Agriprocessors (I know nothing on this issue) that upsets us as much as its image in the news media.

We’d rather not be bothered by the nasty nature of meat slaughter and the plight of uneducated unskilled illegal immigrants. If Agriprocessors disappeared tomorrow, I doubt these "oppressed" meat packers would be any better off. Yes, they’re oppressed — oppressed by their own lack of education and skills.

Agriprocessors aren’t the bad guys. Meat eaters are the bad guys.

FailedMessiah’s Shmarya Rosenberg (who knows far more about Agriprocessors than I do) emails:

Luke –

You’re forgetting about forced unpaid overtime, child labor,  extortion of undocumented workers, company-organized ID theft and  fraud, the LOWEST wages in the meat business – $5 per hour for  illegals to start, up to $6 three months later capped below $7 when  minimum wage is more than $7, having many workers using the same  Social Security number ASSIGNED BY AGRIPROCESSORS, issuing checks to  undocumented workers in a name not their own and forcing them to cash  these checks at the plant – with an "immigration fee" taken off the  top, sexual exploitation – need I really list all these? Have you  been sleeping the last three weeks?

All these things distinguish Agriprocessors from other meat producers  and from other manufacturers.

This was the largest single-site immigration raid in US history. It  involved 18 federal and state agencies and may very well lead to  indictments against company managers and owners.

Rubashkin ran the place like a modern version of Sinclair Lewis’s The  Jungle combined with a pre-emancipation Southern plantation.

This was not business as usual. How in the world can you claim  Agriprocessors is no different from any other company?

Was anyone forced to work at Agriprocessors? At the point of a gun? If not, then all its workers chose to work there because it was better than their other choices.

As far as sexual exploitation, was any of this done at the point of the gun? If not, then these were services freely exchanged in the free market. Many women give sex in exchange for money or to keep their jobs or to gain advantages for their husband. That’s been the way of the world for millenia.

Did you see the movie Fast Food Nation (which was based on the book of the same title by investigative journalist Eric Schlosser)? All the things you lament are a matter of course in the meat packing industry.

Was anybody forced to work for the type of meat packers Upton Sinclair described in The Jungle (I read the book)? I don’t think so. However horrible it was there, it was still better than the alternatives or people would not have worked there. Instead, tens of thousands of people streamed into Chicago to work in these plants because this work was superior to alternate forms of earning a living.

Life is miserable, brutish and short for most of the world. This is not Agriprocessors fault. It’s reality for those who don’t have great work skills and don’t live in a free country.

As far as child labor, was it forced at the point of a gun? If not, then the parents (or perhaps the children) chose to do it. While it may seem reprehensible to us, it seemed a superior choice to those illegal immigrants who have few good choices. I see a lot of children working in shuls. They are the children of probably illegal immigrants who are brought along to the shul by their parents who don’t want to pay for daycare and these kids play and they help out. They set up kiddish for us Jews. Yep, your kiddish at shuls across America is probably prepared, in part, by the children of illegal immigrants. By child labor. What’s so terrible about a nine year old learning to work outside the home?

I don’t see it as the government’s job to prevent parents from putting their children to work.

Wages are determined in the free market. You and I blog for less than $5 hour. So why should we feel sorry for illegal immigrants who choose to work at Agriprocessors for $5 an hour?

Shmarya responds: "Did you read the reports? My God, Luke, these people were forced to rent apartments from Rubashkin and then had the rent raised every month. Leave and you lose your job and get turned in to the feds.They were forced to work overtime and then not paid for their work. They were cheated and extorted. This is not what Swift did. It is not what 
other employers do."

How do you know other meat packers don’t do this? If other meat packers were superior, the workers would choose to go there rather than Rubashkins.

Shmarya emails: "What happened at Agriprocessors is way beyond Fast Food Nation."

Well, none of the things you told me are beyond what Fast Food Nation describes. They are all routine for that industry. What exactly is unique at Agriprocessors that is not described in Fast Food Nation? And was any of it done at the point of a gun? If not, then it is the free market at work. You may not like the choices these illegal immigrants made but they evidently did not think they had superior alternatives. What great paying work in safe conditions is available to illegal immigrants with few skills and little education?

Shmarya responds: "I just did a search on Google’s version of Fast Food Nation for "sexual harassment" and then "sexual." I also tried "extortion."  I think I got 2 hits for sexual harassment and 0 for extortion. I  also read an online summary of Schlosser’s meat plant chapters. 
Rubashkin makes IBP and Con Agra look like angels of mercy."

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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