Go after worker safety violations, too

Companies should not get away with exploiting undocumented workers to do dangerous jobs for low pay. It's illegal and it's wrong, and a government crackdown on alleged immigration violations at a South Carolina poultry plant is a welcome signal that it will no longer be tolerated.

Yet where's the action on reforming feeble worker safety rules? Where's the zeal to reverse a record of slack oversight that has let a risky industry get around even simple rules?

Those steps are as essential to ending worker abuses as rounding up undocumented workers and the people who hire them.

Last week a top manager at a House of Raeford Farms poultry plant was indicted as part of an ongoing investigation into alleged immigration violations. At least seven plant supervisors, all of whom were immigrants, have also been arrested and charged with falsifying their information on employment records at the plant.

The arrests follow a 22-month Observer investigation into poultry processing in the Carolinas that found lax regulations and weak oversight have made it easy for a dangerous industry to exploit illegal workers, underreport injuries and get around a regulatory system that lets companies police themselves.

Stories focused primarily on House of Raeford, and found, among other things, that the company masked the extent of injuries and broke state law by failing to record injuries on state logs.

Undocumented workers are sitting ducks for companies that want to take advantage of them. That's one reason immigration rules should be enforced, period, and employers deliberately breaking them should face harsh consequences.

Even so, the record of state and federal safety agencies is laughable when it comes to policing the workplace in a dangerous industry. Their ineptness is rooted in watered-down rules and policies tilted toward business instead of worker safety.

Changing that is harder than prosecuting the employers who hire undocumented workers. But it's time for swift action on that front, too.