Service allegedly exploited disabled workers

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Clark Kauffman of the Des Moines Register reports on the allegations of abuse and regulatory failures at “a network of labor camps staffed by mentally retarded men.” Henry’s Turkey Service was  run by a Texas family who “deployed at least 600 mentally disabled men to nine bunkhouses in six states.” After connecting it with an operation shuttered by regulators in tiny Atalissa, Iowa, Kauffman visited the family’s last such bunkhouse, deep in rural Texas.

Kauffman looked into the workplace death of Robert Graham and allegations that he and his co-workers had been over-worked and underpaid. Kauffman makes several related documents available as PDFs, including a year 2000 lawsuit against the labor camps’ owners, an older company history of the farms and a 1980 government memo requesting assistance with related inspections.

He also looks at the history and regulatory failures around the bunkhouse in Atalissa. When it was closed, “many Iowa officials expressed amazement that a labor camp made up of disabled men had somehow managed to escape government oversight and public notice” but Kauffman’s review of government and corporate records shows that many of the agencies were fully aware of its existence for years. He reports that some agencies refused to investigate because they didn’t think they had jurisdiction, some documented violations but didn’t take action and other agencies “simply failed to share valuable information with others who might have been willing to act.”

Read the Register’s ongoing coverage of Henry’s Turkey Service.

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