This morning, Myron Levin at fairwarning.com authored one of the more insightful biographical sketches of Jack DeCoster, the Egg King whose Iowa farms have been the source of recalls of just under 1 BILLION eggs since August 2010. It’s no shock, at this point, to hear about Jack’s problems; harassment suits, wage and hour violations, and environmental violations seem to have been the norm at DeCoster facilities dating back to the 1990s.
Mr. Levin has something of a history investigating DeCoster farms that began well before this year’s Salmonella outbreak linked to DeCoster’s eggs that sickened more than 1,600 (read Unbreakable, Unstoppable Jack DeCoster)
When it came to the company’s treatment of workers, however, “What would Jesus do?” was not the central theme.
The starting pay of $1.90 to $2.00 an hour was low even by poultry industry standards. Turnover was enormous. Employees had their paychecks dunned for breaking eggs and for other expenses and penalties, without prior consent or a protest mechanism.
At one point, DeCoster’s generously arranged with a private foundation to provide jobs and housing to 19 Vietnamese refugees. The men were stuffed into three of the company-owned trailers that housed many DeCoster workers. In one instance, a Vietnamese worker who’d put in a 66.5 hour week had his paycheck slashed from $169.58 to $26.27 by miscellaneous deductions.
DeCoster drivers who hauled eggs throughout New England and the Middle Atlantic states were given plenty of time to polish their driving skills.
After a driver complained about being forced to falsify his driving logs, a federal investigation found that the company routinely violated limits on the hours truckers can drive without rest. Prosecutors cited records showing that DeCoster trucks had been involved in eight major crashes resulting in two deaths and three serious injuries in less than two years.
And this is to say nothing of the environmental and contamination problems at DeCoster’s farms that caused the egg outbreak. Maybe a high profile outbreak and a bunch of lawsuits were the best thing that ever happened to the egg industry.