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.