DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- The new chief executive officer of Agriprocessors, the kosher meatpacker targeted in an immigration raid and accused of child-labor violations, said Thursday that his company will make fundamental changes.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press hours after his hiring was announced, Bernard Feldman said his appointment will quickly lead to changes, especially in the company's personnel department and its ability to recruit skilled workers at its plant in Postville, Iowa.
Feldman also said the company will consider cooperating with efforts to unionize the plant, a move that would be a radical shift for a company that has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court to fight union representation at its distribution facility in Brooklyn.
"I am independent and I have absolute control in decision-making," Feldman said. "I am going to do whatever I think is right and best for the company."
Feldman, a New York attorney who specializes in corporate turnarounds, will lead the nation's largest kosher meatpacking operation at a time when the company is fighting thousands of state criminal charges alleging child labor law violations at its Postville plant.
His appointment also comes about four months after a federal raid led to the arrest of 389 workers on immigration charges.
Feldman said Agriprocessors has improved its practices since the raid and put a professional team in place. He said the company has suffered a drop in production since the raid, and attributed that in large part to the plant lacking a skilled work force.
"We have had a good, qualified competent work force in place prior to the raid ... and we have tried to replace them and we are finding that the workers we have right now are not as productive in 10 hours as we had in eight," he said.
Feldman also stressed that he sees taking over the company as a noble calling. He said the Rubashkin family, which owns the Iowa plant and another in Nebraska, had been treated unfairly.
"Let me say this: I have a deep regard for the Rubashkin family," he said. "I am one of those attorneys that will only undertake an engagement if I believe wholeheartedly in the cause."
Agriprocessors changed its leadership under pressure from some Jewish groups and others.
The Orthodox Union, among the largest kosher certifiers in the country, had said that because the state has filed criminal charges against Agriprocessors, the union would suspend kosher supervision of the plant unless the company hired a new chief executive officer within "several weeks."
Rabbi Menachem Genack, the union's chief kosher executive, praised the appointment Thursday. He said Feldman "has experience in turning distressed companies around and he's committed to bringing high standards."