Defense: Former Underage Workers Testified For Visas

Attorneys for manager on trial for violating child labor laws questioned motivation of former underage workers, noting they received work visas for testifying.

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) -- Attorneys for a former Iowa slaughterhouse manager on trial for violating child labor laws questioned the motivation Wednesday of former underage workers who testified against him, noting they received work visas in exchange.

Sholom Rubashkin is charged with 83 counts of child labor violations stemming from a May 2008 immigration raid at the Agriprocessors Inc. plant in Postville. Rubashkin is accused of employing underage workers, allowing them to work around dangerous equipment and hazardous substances and having them work more hours than allowed by state law.

Rubashkin's attorney, F. Montgomery Brown, asked witnesses whether the government encouraged them to reveal conditions inside the plant.

Ana Cecilia Arguello Lopez, of Guatemala, said she volunteered information because she was treated unfairly.

"And you knew if you could not tell about things that happened to you at Agriprocessors, you wouldn't be able to stay in the country?" Brown asked Arguello Lopez.

"I'm not going to invent anything," Arguello Lopez said. "Everything that I said is the truth."

She said she started working at the plant when she was 14, cutting chicken. She came in contact with dry ice used to package chicken, she said.

"You felt like your skin started tightening. And it felt really horrible, so sometimes I would wash my hands," she said.

Another witness, Rosita Trejo Pinales, said she worked for up to 10 hours at the plant after school. She said she went to bed around 1 a.m. every weekday, then went to school in the morning.

"I needed the work," she said. "We needed money to survive."

Defense attorneys introduced documents that showed Pinales gave five different ages to various government agencies after the raid. Pinales said she didn't know how the different ages got on the documents.

Pinales also said she knew other children worked at the plant because she went to school with them.

Another underage worker testified he was 16 when he started working at Agriprocessors after arriving from Guatemala.

Elmer Hernandez Lopez said he worked more than 12 hours a day slaughtering chickens and Rubashkin would walk by his department urging employees to work faster.

Hernandez Lopez also testified he cleaned his equipment with bleach.

"Every time I smelled the odor, I got a strong headache and my nose hurt," he said.

Former human resources worker Laura Althouse took the stand just to confirm payroll information for underage workers and explain to attorneys how time sheets were read.

Before Althouse testified, attorneys argued over whether evidence should be introduced that allegedly showed Rubashkin told her to hire immigrants with certain green cards. They also argued over whether her conviction for conspiracy to hire illegal immigrants should be introduced. Althouse was sentenced in December to two years probation.

Prosecutors agreed not to introduce her conviction, and Black Hawk County District Associate Judge Nathan Callahan excluded evidence from Althouse about the hiring process.

More in Labor