Drug Rehab Clients Forced To Work In Chicken Plants Sue Over Unpaid Labor

By Kelly Burch 10/27/17

The lawsuit claims that the drug rehab violated state labor laws and participated in human trafficking by having the clients work for free.

uniformed worker inside of a chicken processing plant

Three men who were forced to work in chicken processing plants for free, under the guise of doing community service while in court-ordered drug rehabilitation, are suing the treatment center that they say enslaved them. 

The lawsuit, which was filed last week, targets Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery (CAAIR), an Oklahoma-based program that allegedly sent men who were court-ordered into the program to work at chicken processing plants while keeping their wages. Reveal News initially reported that the men were working for free. 

“By defrauding these men and providing virtual slave labor for a private corporation, CAAIR and [Simmons Foods Inc.] are not only violating longstanding labor laws, they are violating basic standards of human decency and the core concepts underpinning our constitutional democracy,” according to a statement from Smolen, Smolen & Roytman, the law firm that filed the suit.

According to the lawsuit, CAAIR violated state labor laws and participated in human trafficking. The suit also alleges that the company violated the 13th Amendment, which bans slavery and involuntary servitude. 

Brad McGahey, Brandon Spurgin and Arthur Copeland are the three plaintiffs in the case. McGahey and Spurgin were highlighted in a collaborative investigation between Reveal and the Centers for Investigative Journalism that first shed light on the alleged labor abuses at CAAIR. 

“Maybe finally something gets done,” Spurgin said about the lawsuit. “If nothing ever happens, people are going to keep getting hurt up there.”

The men are seeking more than $5 million in damages. After working for a year, men who graduated from CAAIR were eligible for a $1,000 gift. McGahey said that he needs the lawsuit to go forward, both for his financial security and to put the alleged practices at CAAIR to an end. 

“I’m glad. Hell, I’m broke,” he said. “Them sorry bastards think they’re untouchable. I don’t want to see them ruin anyone else’s life.”

CAAIR’s founder and CEO Janet Wilkerson said that the men work for free because they are not charged to participate in the CAAIR program. Their wages, she said, were seized to cover the costs.

“Money is an obstacle for so many of these men,” said Wilkerson. “We’re not going to charge them to come here, but they’re going to have to work. That’s a part of recovery, getting up like you and I do every day and going to a job.”

However, Reveal found that the company, Simmons Foods Inc., generates $1.4 billion a year in revenue.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.