The Charlotte Observer Looks at Child Labor
Earlier this year, the Charlotte Observer examined the plight of poultry workers in the Carolinas. Many of these workers are illegal immigrants. And some are kids. This week, the Observer's investigation focused on the use of child labor at the House of Raeford Farms plant in Greenville, South Carolina. Last month the plant was the focus of a federal raid. The Observer's series is called The Cruelest Cuts, by reporters Ames Alexander and Franco Ordonez. WFAE's Mark Rumsey spoke with Mr. Ordonez about the latest installment. Here's a transcript: Franco Ordonez: We focused mostly one young teen-ager. Her name was Lucero who got a job when she was 15. And she got a job on the night shift. Imagine at 2 a.m. when most young people are in bed, she was standing on a poultry line cutting thousands of muscles from chickens every day. That's pretty difficult stuff. Mark Rumsey: Your reporting has documented the responses from the company; in a nutshell what is their response to the underage worker situation in particular? Franco Ordonez: In a nutshell, House of Raeford Farms is saying they followed the law, that they did everything that was required of them in regards to the young workers those workers signed paperwork that indicated that they were 18 or above, that they're of legal age to be working at that plant. And, to their credit, they are under certain legal requirements to accept documentation that is reasonably authentic. What happens, however, is we've spoken to many workers, many supervisors who have told us that it was well known information that there were undocumented workers at the plant and there were also underage workers at the plant. We spoke to over 20 workers, including six supervisors who told us underage workers were a common sight on the poultry lines. Mark Rumsey: Let's talk a little bit more about the actual physical dangers to these workers, especially to underage workers in terms of injuries in the poultry plants. In particular what are the greatest risks, and what kinds of injuries are occurring? Franco Ordonez: Well, in our reporting, we've shown that these plants are extremely dangerous facilities. I'd be hard pressed to think of many parents who would want their 15 or 16 year olds working in such jobs where people are losing fingers. Many of the workers are developing repetitive motion problems, nerve problems and unfortunately in these plants, some people have died. I mean, these laws are there for a reason because of these hazards. We also spoke in our series with a young man whose brother died at a wood pallet manufacturer. His 17-year-old brother was operating basically a wood shredder that would take broken wood pallets and turn them into mulch. His partner stepped away for a moment to grab a fork lift and when he came back, this young man was nowhere to be found until he looked into the shredder. Investigators found out that that machine was not properly guarded and that the teen-ager was not properly trained. Mark Rumsey: When injuries occur or serious medical conditions arise from the work that's being done, and in particular when those workers are undocumented immigrants, what recourse do they have? Franco Ordonez: When an illegal immigrant gets injured, it's a very sticky situation. Illegal immigrants have every right a citizen has when it comes to workers' compensation. Employers are required to provide them with the proper care that's needed. What happens, however, is often times an undocumented worker will be reluctant to press those type of charges. They will be reluctant to come out and acknowledge they are undocumented. They will be reluctant to enter into the court syste. We spoke to several workers who did file cases and when it got to the court system and when they were deposed and asked by lawyers whether they were illegal immigrants or not, they had to say that they were, and immediately got extremely scared and pulled their cases and left. Mark Rumsey: Franco Ordonez, reporter for the Charlotte Observer, thank you for talking with us. Franco Ordonez: Thank you very much, Mark.