# Workers

Will Walmart live up to their PR on Health Care this time?

There has been a lot of talk this week about the surprising move by Walmart to publically support President Obama’s health care reform plan, supposedly positioning themselves as a

leader in the fight to bring health care to all Americans. As we mentioned in a post on our blog

yesterday, this might be easier to swallow if Walmart had any history of leading by example. Instead, they usually do just the opposite.


Walmart’s long record of trying to build a positive

reputation on ineffective work-arounds to health care coverage

for employee, the recent revelations about sacrificing quality for cheap perescription drugs, and their deceptive PR campaign that severely overstated their workers’ health

care coverage, it’s not hard to understand our skepticism. [get the details in the extended entry]

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Give me a break

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.

But the parent company of Henry’s Turkey Service sees things differently:

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.

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I hope this is just the beginning

Iowa Workforce Development is fining Henry’s Turkey Service $900,000 for labor law violations, the Des Moines Register reported on May 29. The fine stems from 9,000 counts of making improper deductions from paychecks, not paying the minimum wage, and not providing pay stubs to the mentally disabled workers who lived in a decrepit bunkhouse in Atalissa. (The violations affected at least 30 workers during every pay period in 2007 and 2008.)

Since various agencies are conducting other investigations into the company’s treatment of its workers, I expect this fine will be the first of many levied against Henry’s Turkey Service. However, an attorney for the parent company of Henry’s Turkey Service told the Des Moines Register that the company will challenge Iowa Workforce Development’s proposal. It will be some time before any fines are paid.

Click here for the archive of Des Moines Register reports on this appalling story.

Edwards Evening News Roundup: Save the Planet Edition

Welcome to your Saturday night Edwards Evening News edition, where we’re working to save the planet!  I am delighted about tonight’s news, which includes:

  • Dr. Helen Caldicott says vote for JRE!
  • Edwards Opposes Peru Free Trade Agreement
  • Edwards visits 99th Iowa County
  • Media Shocker: the Washington Post Has a Decent Story on Edwards!

All this and more below the fold…

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