Tyson Foods is one of the largest corporations in America, and has the poultry processing field on lock. In North Carolina, the company has 26 locations, from administrative support to poultry breeders and hatcheries. South Carolina has a single office, in Columbia.
According to a new investigation by ProPublica, a non-profit journalism outlet, the company wields a disturbing level of influence over policymakers across the country, and has been a key player in the systemic effort to whittle away workers’ compensation protection for injured workers.
Take for example its recent approach in Iowa, as outlined by ProPublica. Roughly five years ago, the company homed in on the state after the workers’ compensation commissioner, who acted as chief judge of the courts in deciding work injury disputes, had issued a number of decisions that irked Tyson executives. From the company’s perspective, these rulings expanded liability which increased the number of claims they would have to pay which in turn impacted the company’s bottom line. The company took action.
That year, a Republican was running for governor, and he made a vow to make the state more “business-friendly.” Tyson responded by hosting an event for the candidate at its headquarters, and organized a meeting between that candidate and executives from a number of other large firms, angered by recent workers’ compensation commission decisions.
That candidate, Terry Brand, went on to win. Once he was seated as governor, he demanded the resignation of the workers’ compensation commissioner whose decisions had angered these companies. When the commissioner refused to step down, the governor responded by slashing his pay by a third. In the midst of this confrontation, Tyson executives provided the governor with 14 pages of talking points, which were intended to assist the governor in defending his decision.
The commissioner called the relationship and the influence between the corporation and the governor, “Chilling.”
What’s more troubling is this kind of action isn’t unique to Iowa or the poultry industry. In Arkansas, which has one of the nation’s largest concentration of meatpacking workers, the company took a lead role in petitioning politicians for work injury reforms that, once enacted, harmed workers.
The issue is significant because it shows how corporate America wields great authority and power and when facing a reduction of the bottom line, companies can aggressively – and successfully – campaign to bend the law in their favor.
These companies aren’t actually submitting a vote and don’t have the power of the governor’s pen. But what they do have is economic leverage. They can wine and dine candidates and politicians. They can twist arms and call on favors. Throughout the South and the Midwest, these companies have been successful in efforts to remove certain workers’ compensation judges or to appoint others.
In most cases, however, the influence is more indirect. Rather than petition directly for cuts to workers’ benefits, they request things like more employer influence over the type of medical care a worker can receive. They may seek to raise a worker’s burden of proof (arguing that workers with legitimate issues should have no problem proving their case) or ask that judges narrow the scope of injuries that are considered work-related.
At the end of the day, all these efforts significantly reduce workers’ compensation benefits for workers who are hurt, often through no fault of their own.
Tyson responded to ProPublica’s expose with a written statement insisting its company’s efforts with regard to the workers’ compensation system were “nothing out of the ordinary.”
Indeed. And that’s what is so troubling.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Tyson Foods’ Secret Recipe for Carving Up Workers’ Comp, Dec. 11, 2015, By Michael Grabell, ProPublica
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