Texas Turkeys in Iowa

About a month ago Spirit of the Time posted a piece on Whatsorts by Cindy de Bruijn called ‘Does Alberta’s “Minimum Wage Exemption” violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?’ Now an incredible news story from Iowa provides a chilling example of just how far wrong such an exemption can go. It starts with 21 Texas men who were described as mentally disabled and  receiving SSI (US Supplemental Security Income that the government describes as”designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income”) income from the government.

Well, maybe if they could be properly trained, they could learn to hold regular jobs, become independent, and get off government support. …. Sounds logical.
Well, may be  Henry’s Turkey Services could help out. The could go into business as providers of social and vocational training. Contract to provide services to Iowa meat packers, keep a few dollars for their efforts, and provide the remainder to the men doing the work, and even if it was a bit less than minimum wage, that would be okay because the men were, after all also getting SSI, and once trained they could go on to competitive employment. …. Sounds logical.

Of course, those expenses can add up.  The cost of housing the 21 men in an old school building with no central heat since 2002, cockroaches, and many boarded up windows may have been considerable. But with the SSI and minimum wage exemptions, it should work out okay. …. Sounds logical.

So, after expenses, how much were these guys taking home. Well, it turned out to be about $65 per month. Well that isn’t very much, when one considers that the company was keeping 100% of their pay and most of their SSI. So, in this case, the minimum wage exemption might have been called just the wage exemption or perhaps the negative wage exemption, because these men were actually getting a negative wage, that is, they were paying for the pleasure of giving away their labour to the meatpackers. But wait, remember this wasn’t just work. They were being trained to become productive mebers of the competitive labour force. After all, its normal for students to pay for training for a period of time. It’s an investment, like a student loan. So if they have to pay for a few weeks or even months, it may land them a good job later. …. Sounds logical.

How long were they being trained? Well, as far as anyone can figure out, it was apretty long time… at least from 1974 (and probably from 1966) until 2009 when their 106-year-old living quarters were shut down by the State Fire Marshall. Of course, not all the men being trained were there for the full 35 years. The youngest was 39 and the oldest was 71. However state officials confirm that some had been there for two or three decades. I guess there is a lot to learn about meatpacking.

Henry’s Turkey Services has a business listing where people can leave reviews at the Merchant Circle.

For more info, see the AARP Bulletin

So, there may be some real situations in which some people are helped by minimum wage exemptions, but you can also depend on it that some people will use it to exploit the most vulnerable among us.

Maybe this provides another argument for animal rights and vegetarianism ???


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