Intimidation, harassment, exploitation: these are just a few labor violations that reportedly took place at one of the seven Mississippi food factories at the center of the mass raids by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) earlier this week that resulted in 680 arrests.
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Last August, Illinois-based poultry supplier Koch Foods settled a multi-year lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of more than 100 workers at the Wednesday-raided Morton, Mississippi plant over claims the company knew — or should have known — of sexual and physical assaults against its Latinx workers.
Mark Kaminsky, chief operating officer at Koch, said the company admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement and maintains, after fighting the matter in court for more than eight years, that all the allegations contained in the lawsuit are false.
However, testimonies say otherwise. From 2004 to 2008, over 500 workers were hired and employees say one manager in particular would grope women from behind while they were working, punch employees and throw chicken parts at them. Workers also alleged that supervisors coerced payments from them for everything from medical leave and promotions to bathroom breaks.
Kiminsky called the abuse and harassment claims “baffling” and “outrageous,” alleging that the undocumented workers were fabricating their reports in order to obtain U.S. visas. After reviewing nine months worth of 24-hour security footage, he said the Koch Foods plant, owned by billionaire Joseph Grendys, saw “absolutely no evidence” to back their claims. Still a US$3.75 million settlement was made as well as a three-year consent decree to prevent future violations.
Some workers at the Mississippi plant who lacked legal immigration status, and who seem to be targetted for mistreatment, said in court that supervisors threatened to turn them in to authorities if they spoke out about their claims of harrassment.
In the EEOC lawsuit, one undocumented Koch Foods employee alleged that a manager sexually harassed his wife and made him pay to use the bathroom once, waiting until he had soiled himself to give him permission to leave his spot on the production line.
“If he found out that I had talked about anything that he was doing, charging money, the way he mistreated us, the dirty words he used; he told me that if I went to complain in the office that he had contacts in immigration,” the worker said in a 2012 deposition that was filed as part of the suit. “And that he knew where I lived.”
John Sandweg, a former acting ICE director during the Obama administration, said, “If workers are being threatened with being turned over to ICE, and then here comes ICE and arrests workers.”
The dramatic operation on Wednesday was the biggest workplace immigration sweep since December 2006, when ICE targeted meatpacking plants in six states and arrested almost 1,300 people, Reuters reports.
Children of arrested workers were left traumatized by their parents’ detention on what was for many the first day of school, according to local media