Background on the turkey farm

(I started writing a reply to Tom’s comment on the Institution or Community post, but I got on a roll and decided my response was long enough to merit its own post.)

There are news stories that describe prior confirmation that the turkey farm was cited previously for owing back wages to the “employees.” There are references to the idea that certain employers are authorized to pay less than minimum wage: the Dept of Labor page on minimum wage standards for workers with disabilities merely states that a company can get a certificate. The report that they’ve already been cited supports the notion that they were nevertheless paying insufficient amounts.

As for the conditions of the “bunkhouse,” it doesn’t seem likely that it was a stately, well-maintained 104-year old landmark! It was boarded up while they lived there; to add another twist it was apparently owned by the city where the men worked, leased by the company that [barely] paid them. The actual place they worked did not believe that the labor was substandard; according to the same article, they paid “more than minimum wages” to Henry’s, who in turn paid less to the workers.

There are mentions throughout the article that the costs of room and board were deducted from the mens’ wages. From the actual state files (PDF) (via) on the place:

The 1974 memo from George, a social worker for an agency known then as the Department of Social Services, said any man assigned to Atalissa “loses control of finances, the location where he lives, the type of work he does, and the type of housing in which he must dwell, as well as with whom. If he dislikes any of these arrangements, his only way out is to return to an institution.”

Finally, you’re dead-on with respect to the game of telephone that goes on with bloggers; it’s very easy to lose the facts (which can, of course, be more compelling than empty condemnations because the facts are harder to dispute than conjecture). Looking for the details here bears out that there is a for-profit company, empowered/entrusted to find jobs for htese men and provide for them, which appears to have a long history of taking advantage of them. Should the 70s-era comments that the men are working on the place themselves be taken at face value today? No, standards have changed. And any argument that the men “agreed” to their conditions (when the alternative is an institution), is fraught with perils on all sides. At one time, we would have blithely determined that they couldn’t consent; today, we’d be more respectful of their ability to self-advocate and their rights of self-determination. Nevertheless, in a position of trust that the employer is here (Henry’s Turkey, not the underlying meatpacker), the law typically imposes heightened duties, in much the same way that strong arguments exist that a supervisor can seldom have a consensual relationship with an employee.

[Finally, on the trafficking issue, the status of wage slaves, from sweatshops to the railroad/coal mine company stores that figure prominently in American folk songs, has been “upgraded” to generally include them in the trafficking category. A high-profile recent example or two. That these men may not have been subjected to some of the other horrors that occur in institutions shouldn’t exempt this employer from criticism.