The parent company of the firm that allegedly exploited mentally disabled workers in Iowa claims not to be subject to our state’s labor laws, the Des Moines Register’s Clark Kauffman reported today.
In May, Iowa Workforce Development fined Henry’s Turkey Service $900,000 for 9,000 violations connected to men who worked at a plant in West Liberty. They received pitiful wages after fees were deducted for housing, food and other expenses.
An attorney for Hill Country Farms said in a written response that the company “is organized, operated and controlled according to the laws and regulations of the State of Texas” and is not subject to the Iowa laws it’s accused of violating.
The company maintains that all of the Iowa workers who lived for decades in a bunkhouse in Atalissa, near the West Liberty plant, were technically residents of Texas and that their real employer was West Liberty Foods, not Hill Country Farms.
State and corporate records support some elements of that argument but undercut other aspects of the company’s case.
For example, some of the Atalissa men were enrolled in Texas Medicaid – a program that in theory is open only to residents of Texas. But the W-2 tax forms in which the men’s wages were reported to the Internal Revenue Service indicate that Hill Country Farms, not West Liberty Foods, was the employer.
Kauffman writes that “it could be a year” before an administrative law judge rules on this case. I’m not an attorney, but I would hope Hill Country Farms is not able to get away with claiming men in Atalissa, Iowa, as Texas residents.
Staff at Iowa Workforce Development and the state legislature should look for ways to close any loopholes companies may be using to evade our labor standards.
Click here for the archive of Des Moines Register reports on Henry’s Turkey Service and the men it housed in Atalissa.