District Judge Timothy Brooks has submitted a class action ruling ordering Hendren Plastics and the Drug and Alcohol Recovery Program (DARP) of Decatur, Arkansas, to pay 172 former program participants more than $1.1 million in back wages. According to the case, those suffering from addictions enrolled at the DARP Foundation for recovery help. Many were court-ordered to attend in lieu of incarceration even though they hadn’t committed crimes.
Instead of getting adequate care, however, they were required to work full time without pay at Hendren Plastics, a factory owned by Jim Hendren, the Arkansas Senate president pro tempore. At the plastics factory, participants were employed on an assemble line and tasked with melting plastic for products sold at popular retailers.
According to a court order, Brooks said, “Hendren and DARP used the program for financial gain” and “both companies are required to follow the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act and pay participants at least minimum wage for their work.” The ruling stated further, “They were businesses that manipulated the labor market and skirted compliance with the labor laws for their own private ends.” Brooks added, “People struggling with drug addiction are still entitled to wages…Businesses that profit from the labor of non-incarcerated drug addicts must still comply with the (Arkansas Minimum Wage Act’s) strict requirements.”
Workers reported molten plastic would commonly burn their face, arms and legs, and yet, they were required to continue working and received little help. “They just gave me some Neosporin and told me I’d be all right,” said Dylan Willis, a former participant.
“I wasn’t in it for the money. I just wanted for them to be exposed,” said Mark Fochtman, one of the class action plaintiffs who was also ordered to work at the factory. He added, “They just need to treat people more like humans and less like a business. Recovery is not a business. You’re doomed to fail if you try to turn recovery into a business, and that’s what happened with this. I just hope they see what comes around goes around. They kind of got what’s coming to them.”
Attorney Tim Steadman, who argued on behalf of the plaintiffs, explained, “This is a common sense conclusion that people who are not in prison, they’re protected by wage and hour statutes.”
“Its residents directly competed with private citizens in the Arkansas labor market for employment at Hendren,” Brooks wrote. “Hendren’s use of DARP workers displaced private-sector workers Hendren would have ordinarily paid a higher rate of pay.”
Hendren Plastics canceled its contract with DARP following the initiation of the lawsuit. Jim Hendren said at the time, “We paid for every dime of labor we received. I was not privy to the agreement between the program and participants.” He insisted the plastics company paid the agency $9.25 per hour for each worker.
“We believe in opportunities for people to get their lives turned around,” he said at the time of the filing. “It’s an opportunity to help folks who have made some poor decisions.”