Brett Kavanaugh Once Sided With an Anti-Union Company That Scapegoated Undocumented Workers

Ethan Miller July 13, 2018

Judge Brett Kavanaugh poses for journalists before a meeting with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in the Senate President pro tempore office in the U.S. Capitol July 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh to succeed retiring Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Peo­ple work­ing at a meat dis­tri­b­u­tion ware­house in Brook­lyn were tired of work­ing for unsus­tain­able com­pen­sa­tion with­out health insur­ance, paid hol­i­days or over­time pay, so they decid­ed to come togeth­er to improve their jobs. Their com­pa­ny imme­di­ate­ly threat­ened and fired indi­vid­u­als for their sup­port of a union, but they per­sist­ed in want­i­ng to achieve a bet­ter work­place. In 2005 they vot­ed to join togeth­er to form a union, yet their boss­es refused to nego­ti­ate with them. After the work­ers took the com­pa­ny to court, it claimed it had no oblig­a­tion to hon­or its employ­ees’ union because some of the peo­ple it hired were undoc­u­ment­ed immigrants.

The com­pa­ny, Agriproces­sors Inc., lost its case before the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Board, appealed the deci­sion, and then lost again before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Dis­trict of Colum­bia. In fact, the only judge who agreed with the company’s ludi­crous argu­ment was Brett Kavanaugh, now Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

This saga isn’t the only time Agriproces­sors has been in the news. In 2008, while under inves­ti­ga­tion by numer­ous state and fed­er­al agen­cies for alarm­ing work­place con­di­tions, Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE) offi­cers raid­ed a Postville, Iowa meat­pack­ing plant owned by Agriproces­sors, result­ing in arrests of near­ly 400 immi­grants work­ing in the plant. Instead of being rec­og­nized as vic­tims and wit­ness­es of crimes such as labor traf­fick­ing and work­place abus­es, the employ­ees were treat­ed as criminals.

Just two days after the raid, the Des Moines Reg­is­ter pub­lished a lengthy arti­cle detail­ing the his­to­ry of work­place safe­ty vio­la­tions at the plant, includ­ing nine cita­tions with­in just two years. Immi­grants from Guatemala and Mex­i­co who worked for Agriproces­sors com­plained of child labor, sex­u­al and phys­i­cal abuse by super­vi­sors, under­pay­ment and severe health and safe­ty abuses.

The U.S. Depart­ment of Labor’s Wage and Hour Divi­sion had been coor­di­nat­ing its inves­ti­ga­tion with ICE up until the raid, which was staged with­out any pri­or notice to the Labor Department.

ICE pur­sued the raid using the work­ers’ com­plaints of the company’s wrong­do­ings as a basis. The agency’s war­rant affi­davit even recit­ed alle­ga­tions that a super­vi­sor duct-taped the eyes of an employ­ee” and then took one of the meat hooks” to hit a work­er. The agency had also received noti­fi­ca­tion from a union that it should avoid inves­ti­gat­ing the com­pa­ny while work­ing peo­ple at the slaugh­ter­house were try­ing to join togeth­er to blow the whis­tle on deplorable work­ing conditions.

One of the man­agers of the plant (and the son of the own­er), Sholom Rubashkin, was even­tu­al­ly sen­tenced to 27 years in fed­er­al prison on charges stem­ming from the raid. But on Decem­ber 20, 2017, Pres­i­dent Trump com­mut­ed Rubashkin’s sen­tence, after he had served less than a third of his prison term.

Rubashkin’s case is not the only time Trump has used his par­don pow­ers to let off a ser­i­al abuser of immi­grants. In August 2017, Trump par­doned for­mer Mari­co­pa Coun­ty, Ari­zona Sher­riff Joe Arpaio, who had been con­vict­ed of crim­i­nal con­tempt for ignor­ing a judge’s order to stop racial­ly pro­fil­ing and detain­ing Lati­nos sim­ply on the sus­pi­cion that they did not have legal sta­tus. Arpaio gained noto­ri­ety for the inhu­mane con­di­tions that he forced inmates of the jail he ran to live in, includ­ing a tent city” prison in the Ari­zona heat.

These cas­es sug­gest that, in Trump’s Amer­i­ca, immi­grants have no right to hold a job free from abuse and suf­fer­ing. In Trump’s Amer­i­ca, peo­ple who have abus­ing immi­grants like Sholom Rubashkin and Joe Arpaio can trust they will have their rights restored, while immi­grants aren’t giv­en a chance to speak up for them­selves in court. In Trump’s Amer­i­ca, judi­cial appointees can use their posi­tions to freely shield cor­po­ra­tions and the wealth­i­est few while deny­ing immi­grants the free­doms they should be able to exer­cise. In Trump’s Amer­i­ca, instead of the gov­ern­ment obtain­ing jus­tice for immi­grants who protest unlaw­ful work­ing con­di­tions, immi­grants face dras­tic reprisals and depor­ta­tions. And in Trump’s Amer­i­ca, greedy CEOs can make piles of mon­ey by abus­ing immi­grants, assured that Trump will bail them out if they are exposed.

With a few excep­tions, our courts have so far stood as a bul­wark against some of the worst attempts by Trump to dehu­man­ize immi­grants. If Brett Kavanaugh is con­firmed, Trump will have an ally on the high­est court in the land as he con­tin­ues his cam­paign to deny immi­grants their fun­da­men­tal human rights.

This arti­cle was first pub­lished on the Jobs With Jus­tice blog.

Ethan Miller is an orga­niz­er, activist and com­mu­ni­ca­tor in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. You can fol­low him on Twit­ter @ESMiller59.
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