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Friday, July 10, 2015

Citing the "depraved" exploitation of dozens of mentally retarded men, $1 million fine against the owners of Henry's Turkey Service

Written by CLARK KAUFFMAN; Des Moines Register

Citing the "depraved" exploitation of dozens of mentally retarded men, a state official on Tuesday reinstated a $1.1 million fine against the owners of Henry's Turkey Service.

The company is a Texas labor broker that for 40 years paid more than 70 mentally retarded men about 41 cents an hour, plus room and board, to work in a Muscatine County meat-processing plant.

In February 2009, The Des Moines Register started asking about the old schoolhouse where the men lived, its lack of a care-facility license and the workers' wages. Days later, a dozen government agencies declared the bunkhouse unsafe, and relocated 21 residents.

Iowa Workforce Development imposed a $1,164,400 administrative penalty against Henry's for allegedly making improper deductions from workers' pay, failing to pay minimum wage and failing to give pay stubs to workers.

The company appealed, which led to a hearing last summer before Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Farrell, who cut the fine by 85 percent, to $174,660.

Iowa Workforce Development appealed Farrell's decision to Christopher Godfrey, state commissioner of workers' compensation. On Tuesday, Godfrey reinstated the entire, original fine.

In his decision, Godfrey wrote: "Locked behind the doors of the 'bunkhouse,' as the old schoolhouse had been labeled, were 37-plus years of secrets, neglect and deplorable actions. ...

"The actions of (Henry's) in exploiting persons with disabilities, as has been proven beyond a doubt, are depraved. What may have once had a seemingly benevolent purpose devolved into exploitation and clear violations of Iowa law."

Henry's attorney, David Scieszinski, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Godfrey's decision is subject to appeal.

While Farrell had reduced the fine in part by finding that Henry's had acted in good faith and obeyed the law for many years, Godfrey ruled that the evidence showed otherwise. He said the testimony of Henry's co-founder Kenneth Henry wasn't credible, and the testimony of company accountant Robert Berry was "troublesome, as much of it is simply unbelievable."

Henry's has argued that it was not the men's employer, although company officials signed the men's checks and made all of the payroll deductions. The company claimed West Liberty Foods was the men's true employer, so any labor law violations should be attributable to the processing plant.

No one associated with Henry's has been criminally charged in the case.

In 2009, the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals asserted that the bunkhouse had operated as an unlicensed care facility, but Muscatine County prosecutors declined to file charges. Last year, the county sheriff said he believed the workers were treated well.

Ten months ago, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled Henry's had abused and humiliated its workers, violated their civil rights and shortchanged them by at least $1 million in wages. However, the agency has taken no public action against Henry's.

The U.S. Department of Labor is pursuing a civil case against Henry's for violations of federal labor laws.

For All Posts on  Henry's Turkey Farm CLICK HERE

# originally posted April 2011, in honor of the 25th anniversary of ADA, as history of the disability community.

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