Commentary, News

A disturbing fact you may not have heard about the Mississippi ICE raids

Was the recent ICE raid on a Mississippi poultry plant carried out in response to workers there having recently won a significant racial and sexual harassment lawsuit against the owners of the plant?

The following is from a story last week on the website Payday Report:

Today, ICE carried out what is believed to be the largest immigration raid in decades when they detained 680 workers at seven poultry plants in Morton, Mississippi.

The workers, many of them members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), were employed by a company called Koch Foods Inc, which employs 13,000 workers throughout the US. (Koch Foods Inc. has no connection or relation to the billionaire political donor Koch Brothers)….

In 2018, following a nearly eight-year-long legal battle, Koch Foods Inc. settled a $3.75 million brought by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Koch Food Inc at the plant. The lawsuit alleged that Koch Foods Inc supervisors engaged in both racial and sexual harassment of Latina workers at its Morton, Mississippi plant.

The lawsuit brought by the EEOC against Koch Food Inc’s alleged “that supervisors touched and/or made sexually suggestive comments to female Hispanic employees, hit Hispanic employees and charged many of them money for normal everyday work activities.”

As part of its settlement, Koch Foods Inc. agreed to a three-year federal consent decree to change its discriminatory practices. As part of the consent decree, Koch Foods Inc. was forced to create a 24-hour-a-day bilingual hotline for workers to use to file complaints.

Some activists see this as a familiar pattern: immigrant workers band together and stand up against mistreatment by their employers and then, mysteriously, ICE shows up to break up the workforce and deport complaining workers. Again, here’s the Payday Report story:

Many immigrants rights advocates have speculated that workers are targeted for raids after their facilities get investigated for worker abuse.

In June of 2018, ICE raided a unionized Fresh Mark meatpacking plant in Salem, Ohio; arresting 140 workers.

A week before the raid on a Fresh Mark’s Salem facility, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined Fresh Mark $211,194 for three separate incidents in which proper guards for dangerous machinery were not in place. OSHA found that the lack of safety guards resulted in the death of an undocumented worker.

In December of 2017, Domingo Ramos, a 49-year-old undocumented worker from Guatemala, was killed in the plant when his foot was sucked into a rotating auger, ripping off his lower leg and leading to him bleeding to death.

Suspicion was also raised that workers complaining about working conditions in plants lead toa raid at the Southeastern Provision in Morristown, Tennesse. The raid came after federal authorities were tipped off by a local bank that the owner of the plant may have been paying undocumented workers under the table….

While it’s unclear if the raids are being triggered by federal authorities responding to the mistreatment of workers, the overall effect of these raids has had a chilling effect on workers speaking out.

“These raids send a real signal to immigrant workers not to speak up, and we feel like these raids enable employers in the most dangerous industry to cut corners and violate labor standards,” said Debbie Berkowitz, who served as chief of staff of OSHA under Obama from 2009 to 2013 and now serves as the director of the worker health and safety program at the National Employment Law Project (NELP).

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