Tag Archives: abuse
Note: There are a number of links to news stories in this post. All of them have problematic language.
A horrifying story out of Iowa has been getting some press attention over the last few days, if you know where to look1. An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) report detailed the abuse of workers with intellectual disabilities in a meat packing plant and it looks like the labour contractor responsible, Henry’s Turkey Service, is going to be brought up on charges. I can find stories on this dating back to early 2009; the uptick in interest appears to be the result of news that more federal charges are going to be filed.
The labour contractor, based in Texas, provides crews that go all over the country and has done so since the 1970s. This particular group of 21 men was sent to a plant in Iowa, West Liberty Foods. They were kept in a bunkhouse with boarded up windows and space heaters for heat; Iowa gets mighty cold in the winter and space heaters are unlikely to cut it. These men were getting up at three in the morning seven days a week to work in a meatpacking plant, and some of them were ’employed2‘ for decades.
Here’s a description of the conditions:
“The living conditions were worse than squalor,” she said. “There were fire hazards, no heat, their rooms were crawling with cockroaches. It was just filth, a nightmare.” (source)
West Liberty was paying Henry’s Turkey Service around $11,000 United States Dollars a month for the men’s labour, and they were making, literally, pennies on the dollar:
The report found that West Liberty Foods paid Henry’s Turkey Service as much as $11,000 per week for the disabled men’s labor. Henry’s Turkey Service then paid the men a combined total of between $340 and $500 per week, or about 41 cents an hour, The Des Moines Register reported.
Compared to the pay the men would have gotten at minimum wage, the report found that the company underpaid them by more than $1 million during the last three years of the company’s operation. But the underpaid amount could climb because other workers doing the same job earned between $9 and $12 per hour. (source)
How was this justified?
…to justify lower wages the lawyer explained how by using a Department of Labor formula the company then calculated how much to pay based on how many disabled men it takes to equal the amount of work done any one man. His example was three-to-one. (source)
This story is primarily being reported as a case of employment discrimination and much of the litigation surrounds the back wages and pay these men are owed. This is definitely an issue and I’m glad to see it being addressed. But this is also a very clear case of abuse of people with disabilities. And I am deeply disturbed to learn how the EEOC deals with abuse of disabled workers:
Under federal law, once the EEOC determines that the rights of disabled workers have been violated, it must attempt to halt the violations through an informal process of “conference, conciliation and persuasion.” The commission plans to send a proposed conciliation agreement – a settlement of sorts – to Henry’s owners. If the owners reject the proposed settlement and refuse to negotiate, the EEOC has the option of taking the company to court. (source)
Evidently, if you are a disabled worker and you are being abused by an employer, including abuse like being kept in squalid conditions and being taunted and name-called by coworkers, attempts to work the situation out amicably must fail before more aggressive measures can be pursued.
This is a labour rights issue, but it is also an abuse issue. And it illustrates the critical need to get tougher protections in place for workers with disabilities. These conditions should never have happened in the first place and they definitely should not have been allowed to persist for decades. There would be widespread outrage if nondisabled people were involved in the case, but as it is, most of the reporting and attention seems to be happening in Iowa itself. This is being treated as a local news story, instead of what it is, which is a heinous outrage and a grave violation of human rights and all reasonable decency.
And it’s being treated as a one time event, rather than evidence of a systemic problem. Certainly, the news says, this case is awful and it’s good that charges are being filed. But there’s not a lot of exploration into how and why this happened. Some advocates are quoted in the articles, as well as family members, and they are righteously infuriated, but I don’t see any quotes from people with disabilities, including any of the workers involved; once they were removed from the bunkhouse, they were apparently whisked into group homes.
Henry’s Turkey Service is not the only agency that provides contract labour like this. West Liberty is not the only employer which tries to cut costs by using contract labour. This is a structural problem, not a local news issue. Workers with disabilities and workers with nebulous immigration status endure horrific abuses in this country; the situation at West Liberty is repeated over and over again all over the United States because of the attitude that these individuals are a cheap source of disposable labour, to be used up and thrown away.
And the people ‘in charge,’ the people who might be empowered to investigate and take action? Well:
Muscatine County Sheriff David White said recently that he is confident the people who ran Henry’s Turkey Service treated the bunkhouse residents well.
“Our take on it was, you know, that they were doing some pretty good things with these guys,” he said. (source)
The reason no one did anything about the hostile working environment, atrocious living conditions, and economic abuses of these men is that they were regarded as something less than human. And employment law appears to reinforce that idea by suggesting that the first step in abuse cases like this is not filing charges, but ‘conciliation and persuasion.’
Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.
Photo from the Disability Action Hall’s Eighth ‘Speak Out’ event, held in 2006. By Flickr user Grant Neufeld, Creative Commons License.
Tasha Fierce at Red Vinyl Shoes: My Kind of Crazy
I used to talk about mental health issues a lot back in the day, but haven’t lately because I got tired of feeling like a downer all the damn time. It is really important to bring mental health issues to light because the more we talk about them the less stigmatizing the diagnosis becomes, but constantly being the ambassador from crazyland is tiring mentally. You don’t always have to be the one to suffer fools.
So, for me, one of the very hardest, most awfulest to try to overcome parts of FA was the idea that I had to listen to my body and trust that I was interpreting its messages correctly. For an example: I have a proliferation of allergies, both food and environmental. Before I pursued actual useful medical treatment (as opposed to being told the allergies would go away if I lost weight), I had no goddamn idea if I was having an allergy attack or if I had a cold. In fact, it was so impossible to tell that everything read as allergies.
Richard Bales at Workplace Prof Blog: DOL Releases Online Disability Law Advisor
The interactive, online Disability Nondiscrimination Law Advisor helps employers determine which federal disability nondiscrimination laws apply to their business or organization and their responsibilities under them. To do this, it asks users to answer a few relevant questions and then generates a customized list of federal disability nondiscrimination laws that likely apply, along with information about employers’ responsibilities under each of them.
Diana Sweet at The Raw Story: US school for disabled forces students to wear packs that deliver massive electric shocks (warning, graphic descriptions of abuse of people with disabilities) (via Planet of the Blind)
Noting that it believes United States law fails to provide needed protections to children and adults with disabilities, MDRI calls for the immediate end to the use of electric shock and long-term restraints as a form of behavior modification or treatment and a ban on the infliction of severe pain for so-called therapeutic purposes.
Beck Vass at the New Zealand Herald: ‘Nightmare’ at petrol station for amputee
When double-amputee Brian Portland went to buy petrol at a BP station in South Auckland, he was told he had to pump it himself.
Then, Mr Portland was told he couldn’t use his wheelchair on the forecourt because it breached health and safety regulations.
Wheelchair Dancer: Sins is Hiring
We present multidisciplinary performances (video, poetry, spoken word, music, drama, and dance) by people with disabilities for broad audiences in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere; organize multidisciplinary performance workshops for community members with and without disabilities; and offer political education workshops for community based and educational organizations that share our commitment to social justice principles as a means of integrating analysis and action around disability, race, gender, and sexuality.
It’s been a while since we had a round of ‘FWD Contributors writing elsewhere,’ so, without further ado…
abby jean writing at Feministe: Fighting Ableism Fights Sexual Assault (Content warning: Discussions of sexual assault, depression.)
Fighting against ableist language or ableist tropes in pop culture helps undermine the messages that could convince a woman with a disability that she doesn’t deserve more than sexual assault. Fighting ableism is fighting sexual assault. And, to extend that, fighting racism and classism and homophobia and trans oppression also fights sexual assault, by fighting the interlocking and intersecting forces that make women more and more vulnerable to rape and sexual assault.
Anna already mentioned this post in an earlier edition of Recommended Reading, but it’s worth highlighting again!
Brandann Hill-Mann (aka Ouyang Dan) writing at Racialicious: Wopajo
But it sums up my life perfectly: Too white to be Native and too Native to be white. And that is only the surface of my racial conundrum. Always on the edge of two identities and never quite belonging to either. I don’t look like anyone else in my family; I am lighter and my hair brown, not the silky black that you see in some popular movies, and is sometimes a little curly, and my eyes are partially green. I don’t look like my own family, and when I tell someone that I am in fact not White, I get the sympathetic “oh, yes, I see it now, you do have remarkably high cheek bones!” stamp of approval.
s.e. smith writing at Global Comment: Child abuse & vengeance in picturesque Fort Bragg, CA (Content warning: Discussions of molestation, rape, murder.)
There are laws in place to protect people like Aaron Vargas and the thousands of people abused by Catholic priests. Mandated reporting laws, for example, oblige people in positions of authority to report suspected abuse. Likewise, law enforcement are expected to follow up on abuse reports.
Chally at Feministe: It’s About Control
Because there are people out there who think the idea of controlling their partner, controlling women, is a source of amusement. That getting those nasty bitches to pipe down is a dream. But more than that, worse than that, is that this remote is a reminder that there are men out there who desire to control “their” women’s every action and being like this. That is abuse. It is not a source of humour, and I don’t know what kind of disconnect or contempt or hatred it takes to make anyone think it could possibly be something to laugh about.
Hannah Freeman (interviewing Anna) at the McGill Daily: Hey, feminist movement!
‘It would thrill me if all feminist writers everywhere would assume that “women” includes “women with disabilities”, and stop acting like they’re doing us a favour by letting us talk about our “pet issues”. Disability crosses race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, political view, etc.’