Agri Star vows to make former Agriprocessors plant Postville's pride - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Agri Star vows to make former Agriprocessors plant Postville's pride

POSTVILLE (KWWL) -- The community of Postville has been through a lot since May 12, 2008. That's the date of the raid with 389 illegal workers detained. At the time, it was the largest raid in US history.

In September 2008, the Iowa attorney general filed more than 9,000 charges of child labor violations against the owner and managers of the Agriprocessors plant in Postville. The company declared bankruptcy last November..

In July, a bankruptcy court judge gave the go ahead for the sale of Agriprocessors to Agri Star Meat and Poultry, LLC.The acquisition was final August 6.

Efforts are now underway now to rejuvenate the Postville meatpacking facility. After the sale to Agri Star, the plant's workforce is up to 385; that's 60 more than the time of the sale.

In Postville, the water tower at the plant is one of the most recognizable places in town. Tuesday, it went from saying Agriprocessors, to saying Agri Star. Owners say the change in paint signifies a lot more changes to come.

"It's been a landmark over here for many, many years. All of the sudden, we're changing the face of Postville a bit, but look at it this way, it's for the better," Agri Star CEO Hershey Friedman said gazing up at the new letters being painted on.

Friedman sums up the changes to come: "More efficient, more safe and more productive."

Friedman says he's starting with employee morale.

"Give them fair salary, fair benefits, good working conditions, health and safety. In return, you get yourself a good manufacturing facility, top-notch products," Friedman said.

Friedman says he wants employees to be happy, and he's also making sure they're legal. Agri Star will use a federal database called E-Verify to check applicants.

"It is verified immediately on the computer. If everything's proper, we get the go ahead from the government. Of course, if it's not, they do not get hired."

Agri Star says 99% of the former Agriprocessors employees came back on after the ownership change. That includes managers and supervisors, but Friedman assures keeping those leaders won't pull the plant into its old ways.

"They themselves want change. They want to see the changes. These changes have not been done in the past. They had requested it, but it hadn't been followed through. They see us following through," Friedman said.

For a plant and town that's been through a lot since the raid, Friedman says this change is what they need.

"We're a new company. We have a new beginning and a new future to look forward to. The past is not us," Friedman said. "I'm proud of it."

Right now, the plant is only producing poultry and deli products. Friedman says the company will likely get back into beef production at the beginning of next year. The company expects to hire between 200 and 300 more employees once they start beef production.

Friedman says another priority is increasing product quality. This week, a group of kosher meat production experts from Israel is in town doing consultation with the plant. Friedman says they'll be repairing, replacing and buying new equipment for the plant.

Since Agriprocessor's closing, kosher butcher shops across the country have been struggling with meat and chicken shortages. Other processors have been swamped with orders and are either boosting the amount of meat they produce or refusing to take new clients.

Some consumers are paying up to 40% more for the same meat. Friedman said this shortage and a sense of obligation to Jewish customers is one of many reasons Agri Star must get back up to capacity and start producing beef again.

"I travel a lot, and I was just in Vegas last week, and a lot of people recognize me and they said, when will we have your beef, your meat, your hot dogs? We don't have any!"

Although there's a new plant name, the products produced at Agri Star will have similar branding as before. It's currently sold as "Rubashkin's Aaron's Best". The Rubashkin name will be removed from the branding with a star design replacing the name. but it will still be sold as "Aaron's Best" for customer brand recognition.

Online Reporter:  Jamie Grey

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