SEN. HENDREN: Terminates use of unpaid workers.

The Associated Press is reporting that Sen. Jim Hendren’s plastics company has terminated an arrangement with a nonprofit agency that supplied him workers in a drug court program where payments went to the nonprofit, not the workers.

Hendren Plastics is among the companies, the others in the poultry industry, that have been sued by workers in the programs over their unpaid labor, which they contend is a violation of law and constitution. They work and participate in 12-step drug and alcohol programs under assignment from drug courts as an alternative to prison sentences.


Hendren, the Republican majority leader and Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s nephew, told the Arkansas Times Saturday after his company was sued that he paid the prevailing wage for the workers — $9.25 an hour according to the Associated Press — but didn’t know what arrangements existed between the nonprofit agency he used, Drug and Alcohol Recovery Program (DARP), and the workers.

The arrangements have come to light from reporting by the Center for Investigative Reporting and that work has triggered investigations in both Arkansas and Oklahoma, particularly on the question of whether payments for job injuries went to the workers or the two nonprofit agencies identified as being part of the program. Simmons Foods, a major poultry processor in Northwest Arkansas, has used hundreds of workers in the program. It, too, insists it’s paid what’s required by law to the agencies.


The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal website elaborated today on the allegations against Hendren’s company. Workers who sued over unpaid work there also complained of working conditions and burns from handling hot plastic molded into products for floating dock sold at such retailers as Home Deport and Walmart. The company was started by Hendren and his father Rep. Kim Hendren.

At last report, Simmons continued to use more than 100 workers in the drug court-referred programs. Reveal quoted a worker as saying Hendren had emplloyed as many as 20 in the program at one time. Simmons recently announced a major processing plant expansion in Northwest Arkansas that will benefit from state tax incentives. The latest Reveal article noted that the state Community Correction Department had stopped sending parolees to DARP and a similar program because rules prohibited labor without payment of minimum wage to the workers.


It’s unclear at this point how many drug court assignees were working at Hendren Plastics recently and what their status will be now.