After Raid, Iowa Meatpacker Seeks Palau Workers
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
To Postville, Iowa now, at another meatpacking plant, Agriprocessors. It's the nation's largest kosher meat processor. The plant lost half its work force in an immigration raid in May. Managers have also been charged with labor and safety violations. Now, dozens of people from the Pacific Island nation of Palau have come to Postville to work in the plant, and that has prompted concerns from Palau's government, as NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.
JENNIFER LUDDEN: Never heard of Palau? Maybe you missed this recent episode of "Survivor."
LUDDEN: Unidentified Man: Crystal clear water that is home to one of the most spectacular natural wonders of the world.
LUDDEN: Unidentified Man: These waters were home to some of the most fierce battles of World War Two, and the remnants of war haunt these jungles and littered the ocean floor in a watery grave.
LUDDEN: After World War Two, Palau, along with Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, became a United Nations Trusteeship administered by the U.S. David Gootnick of the Government Accountability Office says this has led to a special compact.
DAVID GOOTNICK: Palauans have the opportunity and the right to enter the U.S. to live, to work, to receive an education. They come on a non-immigrant visa, but they may stay here indefinitely.
LUDDEN: Gootnick says some Palauan villages still have a subsistence economy based largely on fishing, so even low wage American jobs could certainly be attractive. Palau's ambassador to the U.S. says his countrymen are routinely recruited to serve in the US military, but Hersey Kyota was nervous when Agriprocessors in Iowa first reached out. He had heard about the charges of labor violations against the company.
HERSEY KYOTA: The government of Palau was concerned, and we took significant steps to make sure that interested citizens were aware of allegations of the mistreatment of employees.
LUDDEN: David Gootnick at the GAO says, in the past, there have been problems for some Micronesians and Marshall Islanders recruited to the U.S.
GOOTNICK: Issues with buying one-way tickets and suggesting or promising a return ticket, but it doesn't come to pass, of suggestions about the type of housing and the compensation that's going to be offered that don't come to pass and the like.
LUDDEN: Ambassador Kyota recently traveled to Iowa with Palau's vice president to assess workers' conditions firsthand and meet with Agriprocessor's managers. They came away thanking the company for its job opportunities.
KYOTA: The company is really under a microscope, so to speak, so hopefully therefore, our citizens will be treated fairly.
LUDDEN: That could mean more Palauans will decide it's worth the very long trip to work at an Iowa meatpacking plant. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.
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