Follow up on House of Raeford case

This is the North Carolina – headquartered poultry processing firm which mistreated its injured workers and faked its safety reports. I have posted on this before. I do not know what share of its workforce are immigrants but I expect that a minority or a majority are. This kind of abuse is more easily accomplished with immigrant workers who are uninformed and/or intimidated. the North Carolina Governor is asking for more funds for safety enforcement. It sounds like the state safety regulators are dragging their feet. Thanks to Workcompcentral (subscription required), and to the Charlotte Observer for running the expose.
the Workcompcentral story in full:
Easley Requests More than $1 Million For Poultry Crackdown: Top [05/15/08]
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley has included more than $1 million in his 2008 budget to crack down on practices in the poultry industry that include underreporting of crippling injuries and forcing severely injured employees back to work.
Responding to a series of newspaper reports that began running in The Charlotte Observer last year, Easley released a $12.5 billion budget this week that includes $720,000 to replace inspectors and others laid off at the North Carolina Department of Labor because of funding cuts ordered by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Easley’s proposal calls for spending another $350,000 to hire occupational health nurses and two industrial hygienists for the North Carolina Division of Public Health.
“With the nature of these jobs, poultry plants would be the major focus,” Seth Effron, Easley’s deputy press secretary, said Wednesday. “He feels very strongly that all workers ought to be treated decently and humanely. There clearly needs to be a way to make sure that happens.”
The Observer reported that some poultry plants earned prize-winning safety records by forcing injured workers to return to work quickly enough to avoid the recording of “lost-time” accidents.


The series focused in part on the House of Raeford Farms, based in Raeford, N.C. The newspaper reported that the plants pressured employees, include those suffering amputations and broken bones, to return to work by their next shift or on the following workday.
The series examined alleged worker abuses at poultry plants in both North and South Carolina.
The South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission launched an investigation of the House of Raeford plant in West Columbia, S.C., based on the Charlotte newspaper reports.
The West Columbia plant boasted it had logged 7 million hours without a “lost-time” accident in operations dating back to 2002. South Carolina considers lost-time injuries those involving the loss of seven days of work or more.
But the newspaper said it used federal records to identify nine workers during the period who suffered amputations or broken bones during the safety streak.
It quoted one worker fired from the plant seven months after her injury who said a conveyor belt snagged her hand, snapped her right arm and sliced off the tip of her index finger in 2003.
Cornelia Vicente told the newspaper she was rushed to the hospital and then visited that afternoon by a company nurse, who told her she was expected back at the plant early the next day.
The newspaper said other employees were required to return to the plant – sometimes within hours of their injuries.
House of Raeford denied the allegations. But The Observer complained in an editorial this week that efforts to investigate the reports have been less aggressive in North Carolina.
The newspaper chastised the North Carolina Department of Labor, which functions as an independent agency with an elected commissioner, former North Carolina lawmaker Cherie Berry.
Following the House of Raeford report this February, Department of Labor spokesman Neal O’Briant told WorkCompCentral there were no ongoing investigations of poultry plants at the agency despite reports in the series and referred a reporter to the federal OSHA website.
On Wednesday, he declined comment and referred all questions to an agency lobbyist, who did not return a phone call. The Observer said Berry is essentially allowing the poultry plants to police their own operations.
“That’s not only absurd. It’s inhumane, uncaring and outrageous,” the newspaper said. “Yet Labor Commissioner Berry says her department’s safety record is a good one – injuries are declining, she noted – and she isn’t going to change anything just because a newspaper uncovers big problems in the industrial plants she is required by law to monitor and make safe for workers.”
The editorial quoted Berry as complaining that Easley is trying to “micromanage our department.”
Bob Ford, executive director of the North Carolina Poultry Federation, also did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
–By Michael Whiteley, WorkCompCentral Eastern Bureau Chief
mike@workcompcentral.com

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