A leading Republican in the Arkansas Senate said his company terminated agreements with drug rehabilitation programs accused of using their clients as unpaid labor.
According to an Associated Press release, top-ranked Republican Sen. Jim Hendren said his company, Hendren Plastics, has revoked contracts with the Drug and Alcohol Recovery Program following the filing of a lawsuit in Benton County.
The plaintiffs accused DARP of “conspiring” with Hendren Plastics – as well as Simmons Foods and other businesses – to use court-ordered program participants as unpaid laborers.
“I just stopped it this week when I saw some of the allegations and it’s one of those issues where a company has to make business decisions,” Hendren explained. “And the company is going to get put through the wringer for trying to help these kids – you just can’t afford to continue to do it. So I feel bad for some of the kids that I think we had an opportunity to help, but I think you’ll see a lot of companies step out of the program.”
Hendren said that his company paid $9.25 per hour, plus overtime, to persons participating in the program.
However, he claims he didn’t know about the no-pay agreement between DARP and its clients.
The lawsuit was filed by an individual and DARP participant who’d been ordered to work at both a Simmons poultry plant and Hendren Plastics. Another suit was filed by a different worker who’d been placed exclusively with Simmons.
“Instead of receiving counseling and treatment […] plaintiffs were forced to work for various businesses in Arkansas performing demanding, dangerous manual labor for no pay,” claims the lawsuit.
Simmons Food also claims that the accusations are inconsistent with the companies values, saying some of the rehab patients had gone on to secure permanent positions in its plants.
DARP is one of two companies involved in the scandal.
The other, Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery (CAAIR), is alleged to have illegally seized the compensation claims of individuals placed at Simmons Foods.
One of the plaintiffs in the suit against CAAIR says that he was ejected from the program after breaking his ankle on the job. Despite his injury, he was dismissed from the program.
Later, CAAIR filed a workers’ compensation claim on his behalf and withheld the proceeds – all while reporting that the man was still working at Simmons.
The founder of CAAIR freely admitted in an interview that the workers’ comp checks were withheld and used by the company, claiming that the funds were used to pay costs and fees associated with enrollment in the rehabilitation program.
“Yes, we did keep that,” said Janet Wilkerson, one of CAAIR’s founders. “Right, wrong or indifferent, that’s what happened.”