[Editor's note: This story was originally published in The Gazette's Wednesday, May 12, 2010 edition.]
WATERLOO — Top Agriprocessors officials, including Sholom Rubashkin, were warned about minors working at the plant and didn’t act, a former line supervisor testified Tuesday.
Matt Derrick, 41, told jurors he complained several times to his bosses about the teens’ working conditions — often working more than 14 hours at a time. Derrick took the stand during the second day of Rubashkin’s child labor trial in Black Hawk County District Court.
Rubashkin’s faces 83 counts of violating state child labor laws at the former kosher meatpacking plant in Postville. The state claims Agriprocessors employed 31 minors between 2007 and May 2008, when immigration agents raided the plant .
One worker on Derrick’s line told him he was 12 years old, about the same age as one of Derrick’s children.
“It broke my heart that he was even doing that,” Derrick said.
Derrick estimated there were more minors on his line of about 40 people, which processed chickens, than adults.
He said he told plant managers Brent Beebe and Gary Norris about the underage workers and was told by them to mind his own business.
Derrick told jurors he took up the issue with Rubashkin once, telling him some employees were “too young to be doing the job.”
“He didn’t seem to want to solve the problem,” Derrick said.
Derrick left the plant in 2007 after a meeting with Norris and Elizabeth Billmeyer, the company’s human resources manager. The supervisors were unhappy with his relationship with the workers and how he handled his line, Derrick said.
On cross-examination, Derrick said he never told U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors about his concerns about the minors. Nor did he approach law enforcement after he quit. He also said he didn’t tell an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent about his conversation with Rubashkin after the raid.
Defense attorney F. Montgomery Brown asked the court to declare a mistrial after Derrick mentioned that he and his family had received threats. He also asked for a mistrial because Derrick talked about an e-mail that was allegedly distributed to him, Beebe and Rubashkin.
The e-mail, which the defense said wasn’t verified, allegedly came from Billmeyer and asked Derrick to take workers to a Postville restaurant to get fake work documents.
Judge Nathan Callahan declined to declare a mistrial and asked jurors to disregard Derrick’s statements about threats.
Also Tuesday, several former underage workers testified about coming to the country illegally and obtaining false identification to work at Agriprocessors. Two others testified Monday.