Case Farms: A Dangerous Workplace
You may not be familiar with Case Farms; however, you’ve more than
likely eaten its chicken. Each year, the company produces almost a billion
pounds for customers, including KFC, Taco Bell, and Popeyes. The United
States government has purchased nearly $17 million worth of Case Farms
chicken mostly for the federal school-lunch program.
Unfortunately, Case Farms plants are considered one of the most dangerous
workplaces in the country. In 2015, federal occupation safety inspectors
fined the company almost $2 million. Within the past seven years, it has
been cited for 240 violations, which is more than any other poultry company
except Tyson Foods, which has more than 30 times as many employees.
Taking Advantage of the World’s Most Vulnerable Immigrants
The business foundation of Case Farms is recruiting some of the world’s
most vulnerable immigrants, who have experienced harsh and perhaps illegal
conditions in their home countries. Although these workers often fought
for increased wages and improved working conditions, the company has repeatedly
used their immigration status against them to fire vocal workers, avoid
providing financial compensation for injuries, and suppress dissent.
It all started in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, when Tom
Shelton – Case Farms founder – decided it was time to focus
on mass-market chicken products, such as chicken fingers, nuggets, and
buffalo wings. Aided by the growing demand for chicken at the time, Shelton
desired more automated poultry plants with an ample amount of labor.
The company was having a hard time finding people who were willing to work
under such poor conditions for slightly above minimum wage in Winesburg,
Ohio. However, a Case Farms human-resources manager named Norman Beecher
got a tip about a Catholic church in Florida that was helping refugees
from the Guatemalan civil war escaped the mass violence carried out by
their country’s military.
The first batch of Guatemalans was considered the hardest workers any company
can ask for, which prompted Beecher to make a return trip. Soon enough,
vans were transporting Guatemalan works on a regular basis.
Since then, Case Farms plants have been recruiting Burmese refugees, and
even prison inmates, to work their plants.
Lack of Care
In 2006, Evodia Gonzalez Dimas had consistently experienced pain and swelling
in her left arm. For eight hours a day, she stood at a cutting table at
the Morganton plant of Case Farms, using a knife a scissors to remove
fat and bones from chicken legs every two to three seconds. The chain-mail
glove she used to protect her non-cutting hand from accidental stabs grew
heavier as fat and grease gets caught in between in the steel mesh. At
one point, Gonzalez regularly check into the plant’s first aid station.
Then one day, Gonzalez was called to the human resources office, where
the director informed her that the company had obtained a letter from
the Social Security Administration. Her Social Security number was invalid.
The director than sold her a new permanent-resident card for $500 and
helped her complete a new application for the same job, under the same manager.
Around that time, Case Farms workers started to complain that their yellow
latex gloves ripped easily. Once pieces of rubber from the gloves began
to appear in packages of chicken, Case Farms bought higher quality, more
expensive gloves. However, the company charged workers fifty cents a pair
if they used more than three pairs of gloves during a shift, despite the
fact they only made between seven and eight dollars an hour.
In 2015, Osiel Lopez Perez – a Guatemalan immigrant – was sanitizing
the liver-giblet chiller, which is a tub-like contraption that cools chickens
innards by cycling them through a near-freezing bath, then looked for
a ladder to shut off the water valve above the machine. Since the plant
is often short on ladders, he climbed up the machine instead, a process
which was shown to him by his supervisor.
He climbed on to the edge of the tank and reached the valve. But then his
foot slipped, causing the machine to automatically turn on and virtually
rip his leg off, leaving it hanging by a frayed ligament and a five-inch
flap of skin.
Once Osiel was rushed to the hospital, his supervisors immediately demanded
his workers’ identification papers. Because he was an illegal immigrant,
Osiel and several under undocumented immigrants were fired.
For more information or if you are interested in legal assistance in immigration
matters in Texas,
contact The Law Office of George P. Escobedo & Associates, PLLC today.