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A Chicken Plant & Its Exploitation of the U.S. Immigrant System

Posted 9-May-2017

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.