Walker’s Chicken Company Is Tied to Profit from Unpaid Labor

Atlanta (AP) — herschel walker A US Senator’s campaign as an advocate for free enterprise and for marginalized mentally ill, felons, and others. And Republicans in Georgia want policies that blend those priorities.

Walker said in Kennesaw on August 17, “If someone comes out of prison, there has to be an incentive that the person has learned the trade, so that the company can hire him to make a living. We need to give incentives,” he said. , Georgia.

Walker, who founded Renaissance Man Food Services in 1999 as part of America’s vast food processing industry, is a nod to his business experience. “It’s my responsibility now to help,” Walker declared.

This argument mixes several threads of Walker’s claim to dethrone Sen. Raphael Warnockdemocrat, marquee midterm elections A matchup that could determine the dominance of the Senate. A former college and professional football star, Walker describes himself as a businessman, a disrespectful Christian, and someone who overcame mental health challenges with the help of others.

“We have to become a society that wants to help and not hurt anyone,” he said at Kennesaw.

But an Associated Press review of federal court precedents, alongside other public records and statements, points to a more complex reality. Walker’s Business Central to his portfolio is one example of his, through a company he touts as a major partner and supplier, of drug offenders sent from state court to residential rehabilitation programs instead of prison. suggesting that they profited from their unpaid work.

It is impossible to quantify the economic gains Walker would have made over the years from an undervalued workforce. However, some lawyers have accused the business of Oklahoma-based Christian Alcoholics and Addicts in Recovery of “vulnerable victims under the guise of providing alcohol and drug counseling and rehabilitation services.” It derides them as residential “work camps” that profit from the labor force.

As is commonly known, CAAIR began putting residents to work for Simmons Foods Inc. more than ten years ago. Simmons Foods is a processing giant that Walker advertises as a major partner and supplier to his distributor, Renaissance Man Food Services. A state judge assigned a convicted offender to her CAAIR, allowing her to choose between a residency program and its requirements, or a conventional prison or prison hours. Simmons then signed a contract with his CAAIR for work at that factory. Participants in the CAAIR program were not paid.

A U.S. court has declared this type of arrangement legal, and found that “except for punishment for crime,” a fully imprisoned prisoner who does not fall under the 13th Amendment prohibition on involuntary slavery. determined to be similar to the work program for However, many criminal justice professionals are critical of such programs.

“Drug courts are typically pretrial diversion programs,” says the policy of R Street’s Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties Program, a former New York City police officer who is now a center-right free-market think tank based in New York. Director Jillian Snyder said. Washington.

Snyder described the ideal design as “almost like an outpatient program” focused on professional counseling and skills training, with several duties including wages. And programs that focus on jobs rather than rehabilitation and skills training are “predominantly unique to Southern states. You don’t find them in the Northeast or West.”

In pending federal lawsuits against CAAIR and Simmons, some participants were pressured to work when injured, forced to attend religious services, and threatened with imprisonment if they did not perform well. It details how it was allegedly done.

The CAAIR of the participants alleged in court did not necessarily provide the necessary rehabilitation or psychiatric treatment. Walker was emphasizing such treatment when sharing his personal story and advocating for those suffering from mental illness. In court filings, CAAIR describes its services as “a combination of occupational therapy and spiritual and religious counseling.”

“Working full-time on a poultry farm, there is not enough time in one day to complete all the programs” Opportunities for Promotion and Skills Training” should be included. “There’s a lot more to it than she works 12 hours a day to clean the chickens,” she said.

Nonetheless, a 2020 trial judge dismissed participants’ claims that the program violated federal labor law. Her court-ruled CAAIR remains an acceptable component of the state’s criminal justice system. Participant’s appeal is pending.

CAAIR CEO and co-founder Janet Wilkerson told the Associated Press that she “never did business” with Walker. She declined to comment further, citing ongoing lawsuits.

Neither Walker nor Renaissance Man Food Services were named as defendants in the original lawsuit, and Walker’s campaign declined to comment on the matter, saying Simmons was not Walker’s company. person did not respond to inquiries.

Still, in Walker’s story, Simmons is important to his business.

Simmons is the only supplier or partner mentioned by name on the Renaissance website. This website highlights one of his Springs locations in Siloam, Arkansas, where Simmons is based. According to Walker’s previous statements to the media, the relationship dates back to 2006.

Renaissance prides itself on being a certified minority-owned business — Walker is Black — and “works with supplier partners to meet the needs of its retail and food service customers.” This suggests a relationship in which Walker partners with a food processing company to act as a distributor, while the endline business buys from a minority-owned company. For example, Walker’s her website shows his two “Diversity Supplier” awards from Marriott Hotels.

Walker is not always clear about the scale and scope of the Renaissance. He says he employs hundreds of workers and frequently mentions the chicken processing sector in Arkansas. But eight employees were reported when Renaissance filed federal papers to secure loans under the Paycheck Protection Program during the coronavirus pandemic. I was. In a separate lawsuit, Walker gave far more modest earnings figures that showed the company’s average annual profit from 2008 to 2017 was about $1.5 million.

Walker’s exaggeration may simply involve confusing some of Simmons’ operations with his own.

The 2022 financial disclosure form he filed with the Senate listed Renaissance as paying Walker a salary of $214,062.50. Another business, H Walker Enterprises, brought his $3 million payment to Walker as the sole shareholder. His website for H Walker Enterprises indicates that Renaissance is a subsidiary. State records list the same company address in both Dublin, Georgia.

Wilkerson founded CAAIR with her husband Don et al. It prides itself on being a faith-based company that rehabilitates addicts. According to her website, the program began in 2008 with her six men, and by 2015 she housed her 200 in three dormitories.

Through litigation, Simmons and CAAIR have vigorously defended their practices. But there is one thing that has never been controversial. The problem is that the personnel dispatched by CAAIR to the poultry farms have not been paid.

“CAAIR is a job-based program,” the attorney wrote in its defense. .”

In court filings, Wilkerson described the drug defendants as “clients” rather than employees, and characterized them as voluntarily choosing the program after being fully informed of its parameters.

Participants reported that they “did not come to CAAIR, Inc. for a job,” that CAAIR “did not provide[them]a job,” I signed a document stating that I did not receive payment. , Ltd.” There is one potential exception he has. That is, “gift packages may be offered” when the program ends.

“Simmons is CAAIR’s provider of work,” Wilkerson wrote in court documents. “Simmons will pay CAAIR at rates well above minimum wage for work done by CAAIR participants.”

Wilkerson describes the “intensive interview process” for the “clients” the court referred to her program as:

The “Agreement to Enrollment” includes “constructive physical activity, including individual and group counseling, nutritional food (and) on-the-job training,” along with the requirement to “work at a designated workplace.” We are committed to a recovery program. The documents do not name the future companies, describe the training the participants will receive, or detail the work they will do.

The agreement included a code of conduct with the threat of termination.

“Minor rule violations” included “failed to maintain a positive attitude,” “failed to do assigned chores,” and “not shaved, showered, or brushed teeth daily.” , “Not a Team Player”, “Didn’t Attend .

Major offenses included “theft”, “bringing or using drugs or alcohol”, “disobedience”, “possession of money or credit cards on the premises”, and “maintaining a position with an assigned work provider”. “failure of horse racing”, “horseplay or wrestling”. Always”, “Deepen friendship with any woman”.

Participants were warned that these lists were “not comprehensive” and that “other offenses” determined by staff “could also lead to disciplinary proceedings.” In addition, the participant agreed to attend church services off-site during her initial 12-week residency. It came with another code. … use the restroom before church services begin. … clients cannot enter or leave the church with their families. ”

Participants were “free to leave[the program]at any time,” the document said. However, participants signed on to the knowledge that such behavior could result in “consequences from the criminal justice system for early departure” and the document was documented in “disciplinary proceedings”, including “dismissal from the program.” ” was in CAAIR. staff discretion.

In a separate federal lawsuit against another nonprofit rehabilitation program, Simmons again defended the practice in a “friends of the court” brief filed in support of DARP Inc. in 2020.

Citing Simmons’ relationship with CAAIR, Simmons’ attorney wrote that “CAAIR operates on the same basic model as DARP” and “provides job opportunities for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.” I’m here. But Simmons’ attorneys said it’s not the same employment relationship that requires federal labor law protections and even compensation.

“Plaintiffs joined DARP for their own benefit and to achieve their own rehabilitation, not for the benefit of DARP,” or not a for-profit company, the summary states. . Lawyers said unpaid workers get benefits beyond money: “self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment.”


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