Sold for Parts: Pro Publica’s report on chicken processing workers

Pro Publica investigated the employment practices of chicken processing company Case Farms. The report, “Sold for Parts,” was released today, co-published by Pro Publica and The New Yorker.

Case Farms has four plants in North Carolina and Ohio. Michael Grabell visited its facilities and interviewed current and former workers. He visited villages in the Guatemalan state of Huehuetenango finding former Case Farms workers.

Here are some passages:

Finding its first Hispanic workers….

Scrambling to find workers in the late 1980s and early ’90s, Case Farms sent recruiters across the country to hire Latino workers. Many of the new arrivals found the conditions intolerable. In one instance, the recruiters hired dozens of migrant farmworkers from border towns in Texas, offering them bus tickets to Ohio and housing once there. When workers arrived, they encountered a situation that a federal judge later called “wretched and loathsome.”

Vulnerable workforces…

Case hired Guatemalan workers who were afraid to go back to Guatemala due to horrific threats of violence. “Mexicans will go back home at Christmastime. You’re going to lose them for six weeks. And in the poultry business you can’t afford that. You just can’t do it. But Guatemalans can’t go back home. They’re here as political refugees. If they go back home, they get shot.”

[In late 2016] OSHA determined that the company’s line speeds and work flow were so hazardous to workers’ hands and arms that it should “investigate and change immediately” nearly all the positions on the line. As the company fights the fines, it finds new ways to keep labor costs down. For a time, after the Guatemalan workers began to organize, Case Farms recruited Burmese refugees. Then it turned to ethnic Nepalis expelled from Bhutan, who today make up nearly 35 percent of the company’s employees in Ohio. “It’s an industry that targets the most vulnerable group of workers and brings them in,” Debbie Berkowitz, OSHA’s former senior policy adviser, told me. “And when one group gets too powerful and stands up for their rights they figure out who’s even more vulnerable and move them in.”

“It’s an industry that targets the most vulnerable group of workers and brings them in,” Debbie Berkowitz, OSHA’s former senior policy adviser, told me. “And when one group gets too powerful and stands up for their rights they figure out who’s even more vulnerable and move them in.”

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