DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- The Iowa attorney general's office filed child labor charges Tuesday against the owner and managers of the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant, the site of one of the nation's largest workplace immigration raids.
The complaint alleges more than 9,000 violations of Iowa's child labor law at the plant in Postville, saying children were exposed to dangerous chemicals and worked long hours using equipment such as meat grinders and power shears.
The violations involved 32 children under age 18, including seven who were younger than 16.
The attorney general's office said the violations occurred from Sept. 9, 2007, to May 12, 2008, when the plant was raided by federal immigration agents.
Nearly 400 people were arrested in the raid, making it one of the largest single-site raids in U.S. history.
Charged are plant owner Abraham Aaron Rubashkin; former plant manager Sholom Rubashkin; human resources manager Elizabeth Billmeyer; and Laura Althouse and Karina Freund, management employees in the company's human resources division.
"All of the named individual defendants possessed shared knowledge that Agriprocessors employed undocumented aliens. It was likewise shared knowledge among the defendants that many of those workers were minors," the affidavit said.
There was no immediate response to a call seeking comment from an Agriprocessors spokesman.
The attorney general's office said the company encouraged job applicants to submit forged identification documents that were known to contain false information about their resident status, age and identity.
"Each defendant ... hired children, retained the employment of children observed working throughout the plant, and/or participated in efforts to conceal children and when federal and state labor department officials inspected that plant," the affidavit said.
The state alleges violations of five sections of state code: employing a child under age 18 in a meatpacking plant; employing a child under age 18 in an occupation that exposes the child to dangerous or poisonous chemicals; employing a child under age 16 who operated power machinery; employing a child under age 16 who worked during prohibited hours or more hours in a day than permitted by law; and employing a child under 16 who worked more days in a week than permitted by law.
It said the company's records also show that employees were not paid for all overtime worked.
Sonia Parras Konrad, an attorney representing more than 20 of the children, said minors in the plant were treated the same as adults and often worked in the same conditions.
"We don't need to see any papers to see that someone is a child," she said. "This was not one mistake, two mistakes, three mistakes, but many, many mistakes."
Parras Konrad said the children she's representing were as young as 14 when they started working at the plant.
"They were hungry all the time, it was freezing cold or burning hot," Parras Konrad said the children told her.
Postville resident Dave Hartley, 50, said the allegations were "unsettling."
"Everything is unsettling because Agri's a huge employer in this town," he said. "So you want to see the town strive and move forward."
He said one troubling aspect of the charges is that Postville will again be thrust into the spotlight.
"You want things to get back to normal," Hartley said. "I wouldn't say it's turmoil in town, per se, but people are just wondering what's going to happen."
Associated Press writers Michael J. Crumb in Des Moines and Nigel Duara in Iowa City contributed to this report.