May 4, 2011

Natural Foodie: Pass law that helps egg farm? Consider history first

By Avery Yale Kamila
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Laying hens live in tight quarters in this photo taken in 1996 at the former DeCoster egg farms in Turner, still doing business under new names. The company has a long history of violations of workplace, environmental and other rules.

File photo

1995 -- The state wins a civil suit against DeCoster for violations of the Maine Civil Rights and Unfair Practices Act stemming from the company's treatment of Latino workers housed on the factory farm's grounds.

1996 -- The Occupational Health and Safety Administration fines DeCoster $3.6 million for unsafe working conditions. The fine is reduced to $2 million in a 1997 settlement agreement.

1997 -- Maine passes a law allowing workers at factory egg farms with more than 500,000 hens and more than 100 employees to unionize. The DeCoster farm is the only one that meets those criteria. Attempts to form a union at the company fail later that year.

Maine's Board of Environmental Protection fines DeCoster $143,500 for improper disposal of chicken feces and installing a septic system without approval.

DeCoster reorganizes as a limited liability company and splits into eight companies, which include Quality Egg of New England, Maine Contract Farming, Maine Ag, PFS Loading Services Inc., Turner Maintenance & Services and Northern Transportation.


1998 -- The Mexican government and egg farm workers sue the former DeCoster company, charging racial discrimination in housing and working conditions.

1999 -- OSHA fines five of the former DeCoster companies $235,225 for workplace violations and failure to live up to terms of a 1997 settlement agreement.

The U.S. Labor Department fines Maine Contract Farming $24,000 for workplace violations, and the company agrees to pay $4,000 in back wages.

The company pays $5 million to workers for wage and hour violations.


2000 -- OSHA fines four former DeCoster companies $59,900 for workplace violations, following inspections to determine compliance with the 1997 settlement agreement.


2002 -- OSHA fines three of the DeCoster spinoff companies $247,526 for workplace violations.


2003 -- A federal judge in Iowa sentences Jack DeCoster to five years of probation for knowingly and repeatedly hiring illegal workers. When he pleads guilty, he has already paid $2 million in fines and restitution. During his sentencing, an Associated Press report quotes DeCoster saying, "I'd like to apologize for the problem I caused the government. We're making sure it's fixed and won't happen again."

OSHA fines Maine Contract Farming $10,000 for workplace violations.


2004 -- The former DeCoster company pays $3.2 million to settle a class action suit related to illegal housing and working conditions for Latino workers, while white workers were treated differently.

OSHA fines three DeCoster spinoff companies $69,200 for workplace violations.


2005 -- OSHA fines Maine Contract Farming $22,500 for workplace violations.

Neighbors of the former DeCoster egg farms sue the company over excessive odors and flies.


2007 -- An 18-wheel tractor-trailer operated by Maine Contract Farming rolls over and dumps 24 tons of chicken manure in the yard of a Norridgewock home.

A Maine Human Rights Commission investigator finds reasonable grounds that a Maine Contract Farming manager was fired because he was an atheist. Reports at the time described Jack DeCoster as a "devout Christian."


2008 -- OSHA fines Maine Contract Farming $105,000 after workers were forced into a collapsed building to collect eggs and others ordered to shovel snow off the roof without safeguards.


2009 -- Animal-rights group Mercy for Animals releases undercover video shot at Quality Egg of New England showing live hens discarded with dead ones, workers kicking and mistreating hens, and laying hens living next to decomposing birds.


2010 -- Maine Contract Farming pays $25,000 in penalties and a one-time $100,000 payment to the Maine Department of Agriculture as a result of animal cruelty revealed in the undercover video. Quality Egg owner John Glessner is quoted by the Associated Press saying, "There's a history there. I guess we can't ignore it. We've just got to educate people and move forward."

OSHA fines two DeCoster spinoff companies $28,215 for workplace violations, bringing the company's total OSHA fines to $2,777,566 since 1996.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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