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House of Raeford responds

Excerpts from a Monday, Jan. 14, 2008, letter to the Observer

We at House of Raeford Farms, Inc. have spent many days and hours reviewing the information and questions you submitted to us. We have conducted thorough investigations into every allegation brought forth in your series of questions. We have discussed the statements made in the questionnaire you submitted and found many inaccuracies in the information provided to you. The allegations made by these former employees do not fairly or accurately represent the policies or management practices of House of Raeford Farms. After investigating the circumstances surrounding each of the questions you submitted, we determined that due to legal and ethical reasons, we could not provide detailed answers to each and every question you presented - particularly those relating to specific individuals and situations. Rather, we believe we can provide you with the best information and help you understand our business better through a series of comments about our company and programs.

House of Raeford Farms, Inc. is an Equal-Employment Opportunity Employer with programs in place to provide a safe and respectful work environment for all business associates. These programs adhere to government regulations and guidelines, including those from the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. We are not at liberty to discuss individual health incidents due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 ("HIPAA") and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which sets privacy standards concerning the disclosure of individuals' health information, such as that information which you have requested. Our company has expanded this to include information relating to employment issues as well.

House of Raeford Farms, Inc. operates eight production facilities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Louisiana. House of Raeford is dedicated to being a leader in the poultry industry as well as an exemplary member of the civic communities in which we operate. We value our employees and strive to treat them in a fair and respectful manner at all times.

Employee welfare programs are in place at each of our facilities. These programs focus on the general well-being of our employees, including making sure that they can work in a safe manner at all times. We have programs in place that comply with and exceed OSHA regulations. One such program is an aggressive ergonomics injury-prevention program that minimizes employee exposure to on-the-job stress and trauma as much as humanly possible. This program includes a focus on what we call "work-hardening," which allows the different muscles and parts of one's body that perform various jobs to get used to the different kind of jobs at our plants. The program also includes job rotation where employees perform different jobs throughout the day.

... We do follow OSHA guidelines for recording medical incidents and attention given to our employees, which does not require documenting every visit to a first-aid station. We use local, independent doctors in the communities where our facilities are located to treat employee injuries - this is not an in-house function. It is these doctors who develop the medical treatment plan for employees, including when the employee is able to return back to work and any limitations of the work they can perform. We follow the plans prescribed by the doctors to help employees return to good health.

We believe our safety programs have been successful in preventing many injuries. This is evidenced by many of our facilities reaching safety milestones celebrated in industries today, including working millions of hours without lost-time accidents.

... We do not believe in discrimination against any group of people. Our work processes do give us the flexibility to attract and hire people who speak languages other than English that other employers may not have. Regardless of who we hire, we strictly adhere to all federal requirements for verifying the eligibility of job applicants. Official training materials prepared by the Department of Homeland Security are used to train employees to recognize false documents.

Additional response from Raeford Farms, Inc.
Sunday, Feb. 10, 2008

House of Raeford Farms responded to the Observer series on its Web site Sunday. Company officials could not be reached for further comment. Here is the company's written statement:

House of Raeford Farms, Inc. is further investigating allegations by The Charlotte Observer critical of its workplace safety practices and hiring programs. In response to The Observer’s alleged findings, House of Raeford issued the following statement:

“House of Raeford recognizes the value of all our employees and is dedicated to providing them with a safe and rewarding place to work. Maintaining and improving the quality and safety of our employees’ workplace is a continuous priority for our company.

In response to the article in The Charlotte Observer, we have investigated allegations presented to us earlier by the newspaper. Over the past year, we provided them with significant access to our operations and information on our safety and employee welfare programs and policies. We responded to allegations as presented to us by the newspaper through background responses as specific as possible while still protecting employee confidentiality. We believe it is inappropriate for the company to discuss current or former employees’ medical and employment history in a public forum.

This article does not provide an accurate portrayal of the programs, policies and practices of our company or the poultry industry. We are disappointed that the newspaper chose to highlight allegations of a small number of former employees, many of whose cases we identified as factually incomplete or inaccurate.

House of Raeford is a family-owned operation founded in the 1940’s that has a deeply rooted tradition of valuing the contributions made by each employee. While we have grown rapidly over the past decade, expanding our workforce to over 5,000 employees, we have maintained concern for our employees’ welfare as a core value of the company. We have supported the communities where our employees live and work with donations to schools, churches and other charitable organizations.

Our employees have rewarded House of Raeford with their loyalty and dedication. In an industry that experiences a high turnover rate, many of our employees have worked with us for over 20 years, some even over 30 years. We also have third- and fourth-generation employees whose parents and grandparents themselves have worked for the company. We have numerous examples of employees who started as hourly production workers and are now managers and supervisors, demonstrating the career advancement opportunities available for each individual we hire.

We are proactive in looking for ways to improve our safety programs. For example, we are participating in the newly-formed partnership with the poultry industry and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to improve our performance even more. This alliance will focus on worker safety and machinery hazards, and providing solutions to reduce worksite injuries. A similar alliance with OSHA was held a few years ago with a focus on ergonomics.

We have also worked with OSHA through voluntary inspection programs where their officials visit and review safety in our plants. We use such visits and inspections as a means to then continuously improve our workplace safety programs. It is company policy that recordkeeping of injuries is done in accordance with OSHA guidelines and legal requirements for recording medical incidents and attention given to employees.

Our company has seen a decrease in the rate at which injuries and illnesses occur among its workers. As of 2007, our rate of injuries per 100 full-time workers is less than the average rate for the entire food manufacturing sector. Over the past seven years, our company has reduced by half the lost-time accident rate, a reflection of our management’s constant focus on improving safety.

When workplace injuries do occur, we use local, independent doctors in the communities where our operations are located to treat employee injuries. It is these doctors who develop the medical treatment plan for employees, including when the employee is able to return back to work and any limitations of the work they can perform. We follow the plans prescribed by these doctors to help employees return to good health. Furthermore, workplace injuries are covered by mandatory state workers compensation insurance programs administered by the states in which we operate.

House of Raeford is an Equal Opportunity Employer and does not believe in discriminating against any group of people. We are proud of the diversity of our workforce and are assertive in hiring from the pool of available applicants in our communities who have legal documentation for employment. We have policies and programs in place that follow federal requirements for verifying the eligibility of job applicants. Once hired, all employees pay state, federal, Medicare and social security taxes as these are automatically deducted from each employee’s paycheck and reported to the required government agencies.

Our commitment to the safety and general well-being of our employees remains as strong as ever - as well as our commitment to being good citizens of our communities and a valued supplier to our customers. We remain committed to maintaining and improving the quality and safety of our employees’ workplace.”

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