Rights Groups Respond to Charges Against Owner of Tennessee Meatpacking Plant Where Massive ICE Raid Took Place

August 17, 2018

Hayley Burgess, National Immigration Law Center, 202-805-0375, [email protected]
Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, 646-584-5281, [email protected]
Jen Fuson, Southern Poverty Law Center, 334-956-8226, [email protected]

National & Local Civil Rights Groups Respond to Federal Charges Against Owner of Tennessee Meatpacking Plant Where Massive ICE Raid Took Place

MORRISTOWN, TN — James Brantley, the owner of Southeastern Provision, a meatpacking plant in Eastern Tennessee, pled guilty yesterday to federal charges of tax evasion and wire fraud. He is charged with evading nearly $1.3 million in federal payroll taxes over the past decade and neglecting to pay state and federal fees such as unemployment and workers’ comp premiums.

For years, Southeastern Provision has flagrantly violated laws that are intended to protect all workers in this country.  In addition to having been charged with tax evasion, the company is being investigated by both the U.S. Department of Labor (DoL) and the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) to determine whether its employees’ working conditions were inhumane and unhealthful. These charges came to light after a massive raid of the plant in April, during which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents used aggressive, militaristic force to arrest nearly a hundred workers, including one U.S. citizen and several who have work authorization.

As a country, we must stand up and demand that any company that abuses its workers be held accountable for its actions to the full extent of the law. All too often, workers bear the brunt of this abuse and are used as scapegoats, while companies are able to continue to operate without consequence.

Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC):
“We are glad that Mr. Brantley is finally being held accountable for some of his egregious employment practices. But these charges could have been brought by the federal government and a plea deal reached without bringing armed ICE agents into the town and ripping 97 hard-working members of the community from their families. In the four months since the raid, we’ve worked alongside the 97 families who had been the only ones to suffer any consequences from the investigation. The families are still struggling to recover from the devastation of the raid, including many whose loved ones are still being held in detention or who have already been shipped out of the country. By conducting mass worksite raids in Tennessee, Ohio, and Nebraska, the government is instilling fear in workers and making them less likely to report the kind of egregious working conditions that persisted at Southeastern Provision.”

Jessie Hahn, labor and employment policy attorney at the National Immigration Law Center (NILC):
“These latest charges and the pending investigations against Mr. Brantley shed light on a pervasive problem across the country in which the federal government has allowed low-road employment practices to go unchecked, leaving workers vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. The federal government has choices in how it enforces immigration laws, and in this case ICE’s decision to conduct a large, militaristic raid was reflective of a larger pattern of attacking and destabilizing immigrant communities. Contrary to ICE’s representation that this kind of enforcement is designed to combat worker exploitation, ICE’s use of fear and intimidation tactics has the effect of empowering abusive employers and driving immigrant workers further underground.”

Michelle Lapointe, senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC):
“The federal government responded to this employer’s widespread and pervasive violations of the law by ripping vulnerable and exploited workers from their families, detaining them, and threatening to deport them. This is wrong. When workers live in fear of deportation, they are intimidated from reporting unsafe and unfair working conditions. Southeastern Provision had been circumventing basic employment laws for years, including taking advantage of workers by not paying overtime for working over 60 hours per week, exposing workers to health and safety hazards, and denying basic human dignity at work. We hope this employer’s punishment is a lesson to employers to treat all workers with respect and ensure safe and dignified working conditions. And we hope the federal government sees that terrorizing immigrants into silence creates space for bad actors like this employer to flout the law.”

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP):
“Instead of targeting and arresting the workers, this administration and the state of Tennessee’s counterpart agencies must hold this employer fully accountable for violating not only tax laws, but for the egregious violations of basic worker protections done to simply inflate profits and undercut competitors. Employees at Southeastern Provision have experienced conditions and dangers that no worker anywhere should have to endure.”