| Holy you-know-what. A meat processing plant in Iowa has been caught mistreating mentally handicapped employees. File that one under "Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse."
From The Des Moines Register (which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite newspapers):
Since the late 1970s, Henry's Turkey Service has been shipping mentally retarded men from Texas to Iowa to work in the West Liberty plant. Henry's has acted as the workers' employer, landlord and caregiver - paying the men a reduced wage for their work at the plant and then deducting from their pay the cost of room, board and care. Payroll records indicate the men are left with as little as $65 per month in salary.
Did you read that? $65 per month. Here's how they pull that one off:
Keith Brown, 57, has lived there since 1979. His sister, Sherri Brown, said her brother has $80 in the bank after working 30 years for Henry's.
Payroll records obtained by the Register show that in January Henry's Turkey Service deducted $487 from Brown's earnings to pay for his room and board. The company also deducted $572 for "kind care," although the bunkhouse is an unregulated group home, not a facility that provides medical care or assistance.
That's $487 for room and board per month per person even though the ENTIRE BUILDING cost the company $600 total to rent each month. There were 21 men, mostly in their 50s and 60s, living in these conditions, in a building known as "the bunkhouse." Let's see... $487 x 21... $10,227 per month in room and board from these guys when the entire building costs $600.
The 106-year-old bunkhouse, once a school, sits high on a windswept hilltop in Atalissa.
The cracked foundation, locked doors, and boarded-up windows have long given the structure the appearance of an abandoned building.
Later, the article mentions that the bunkhouse had a nasty cockroach problem and it was incredibly cold and drafty. The men's caretaker, who does sound very loving towards them, put plywood over the windows to help with the drafts because so many repairs were needed and not done.
And what do these men do for their $65 or so a month?
Typically, their days began at 2:30 a.m., when they were awakened. At 4:30 a.m., they were taken into the still-dark yard and loaded into passenger vans for the six-mile drive to the West Liberty plant. Once there, they donned protective clothing and went to work "on the line," cleaning turkeys. Gene Berg, a 53-year-old cancer patient, has worked there as a "gut puller." Billy and Robert Penner, two brothers in their 60s, have pulled guts and plucked feathers.
Legally, the plant can pay these men less than minimum wage because, in theory, their special needs make them less productive than other employees.
The FBI is investigating and this is a terrible embarrassment for the town where it occurred that nobody intervened sooner. The men were taken from "the bunkhouse" after their story was discovered and moved to a hotel, but now there's a question about where they will go.