Retail union aiding Ohio union members grabbed by ICE
Fresh Mark meatpacking workers in Ohio are taken away during an ICE raid. | ICE

WASHINGTON—The United Food and Commercial Workers – and specifically its Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union affiliate — will provide whatever assistance and counsel they can to union members among at least 146 workers carted away in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid on June 20 at four Fresh Mark meatpacking plants in Ohio.

The raids devastated three communities — Canton, where UFCW Local 17A represents the plant workers, Salem and Massillon, which has two plants. ICE agency claimed it picked up “146 illegal aliens” in Salem alone. RWDSU represents the plants’ workers.

“We are outraged by the actions of Donald Trump. 146 people” at the Salem plant “couldn’t go home to their families last night, and their children were left on their own to fend for themselves – and that is unconscionable,” said RWDSU President Stewart Applebaum.

“Trump sent in ICE agents to separate hard-working immigrant families in an egregious show of force. Our union is a union of hard-working people, which includes immigrants. We stand with all immigrant workers, who are trying to support their families and better their lives. Our union will not stand for violence against immigrants. We will not stand for tearing families apart and we will not stand for the terrifying tactics of the Trump administration.

“The RWDSU is committed to assisting workers affected by this ICE raid and will continue to fight against any and all heartless attacks on immigrant workers seeking to provide for their families,” he concluded. RWDSU represents all the Salem Fresh Mark plant workers.

The Ohio raid was the biggest ICE raid on meatpacking plants in a decade. The raid also plays to GOP President Trump’s base and emphasizes his policy of rounding up alleged undocumented people not just at the U.S.-Mexico border, but anywhere in the nation.

In a June 20 speech in Duluth, Minn., before a carefully chosen GOP crowd, Trump defended his nationwide roundups – including the Ohio raids – by saying otherwise the nation would be overrun with immigrants.

But the Ohio raid may backfire. The Canton Repository, the local paper, noted Fresh Mark was the first Ohio company to sign up, in 2006, with an ICE program where employers cooperate with the agency in checking workers’ papers.

That includes using the agency’s often-faulty “E-verify” system to weed out allegedly undocumented people. But signing up for the agency’s program and E-verify could imply almost all the workers ICE rounded up are legal. That’s what happened in some prior raids.

UFCW President Mark Perrone says the union will help its members, regardless. He also used the raid to again demand Congress fix the nation’s broken immigration laws. Venal and vicious employers have often used ICE raids as a form of union-busting, both in organizing drives and to cow unionized workers into not exercising their rights.

“Tearing hard-working men and women apart from their children, families, and communities is wrong,” Perrone declared.

“The people who do these incredibly difficult jobs have the right to due process, and to be treated with respect and fairness. Today’s actions will only drive this nation further apart, while spreading unmistakable pain among neighbors, friends, coworkers, and loved ones.”

After announcing the Ohio raids to a shocked crowd, Jobs With Justice Executive Director Sarita Gupta put them in a larger context. “These attacks are coming from extremists and politicians who are attacking people based on what they look like, who they love or how much wealth they (don’t) have,” she explained.

ICE’s parent agency, Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, said it had been investigating Fresh Mark’s Ohio plants for a year. DHS alleged, without proof, that many of the “illegal aliens” used “fraudulent identification” to get jobs. It also said firms “who knowingly hire illegal aliens as a business model must be held accountable,” without saying what it would do to Fresh Mark bosses. DHS and ICE said most of those arrested were from Guatemala.

Veronica Dahlberg, founder and executive director of HOLA Ohio, a 20-year-old agency that helps Latinos in Northern Ohio, told the Repository the “marginalized and vulnerable community” there was devastated. After the raids, the paper reported, parents didn’t come out of their houses and kept their kids indoors, too, for fear of being grabbed by ICE agents.

“It’s like dropping a bomb,” Dahlberg said. “It’s a trauma and catastrophe that will continue.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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