A U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (USCIE) raid that netted 97 illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America four months ago has now turned into a Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) investigation. The owner of the Grainger County slaughterhouse now stands accused of hiring these undocumented immigrants and requiring them to work in a filthy workplace and under unsafe circumstances.
The slaughterhouse’s owner has already agreed to a plea deal with federal prosecutors in which he will admit to hiring undocumented workers and failing to pay payroll taxes. He also faces fines of up to $40,000 levied by the TOSHA for forcing his employees to work in deplorable conditions.
When TOSHA investigators raided the Helton Road meatpacking facility this past April, they reportedly discovered that 27 safety guidelines were being violated. All but four were classified as serious violations.
They discovered that workers weren’t provided with necessary safety training nor equipment including gloves, protective eyewear or hearing protection. They also determined that the way that the storage areas were set up were unsafe. Chemicals in the facility were poorly handled as well.
Investigators determined that none of the injuries workers suffered were logged or reported and no provisions were available to render first aid. Women and men didn’t have separate restrooms and the sanitation in the facility was described as poor.
When asked to comment about the case, a spokesperson for the advocate group, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Resource Coalition, said that the meatpacking industry is notably unsafe. She said what’s worse, though, is that these workers weren’t even provided the most basic safety and health protections that they should have been offered.
Some of the workers that have been interviewed have apparently also discussed how they were routinely forced to work in excess of eight hours per day without being compensated for overtime.
Most of the workers rounded up now face deportation hearings. The plant’s owner has his next hearing on Sept. 12 when he may learn more about how much of a 30-year maximum sentence he may expect to spend behind bars.
When an injury happens on the job, there are certain steps that you should take immediately thereafter. One of these involves contacting a Knoxville attorney who can advise you of your rights.