Imperial’s Hamlet Chicken Factory Fire

Erik LoomisOn September 3, 1991, a chicken factory in Hamlet, North Carolina caught fire thanks to nonexistent safety procedures, killing 25 workers and injuring another 55. This was the largest workplace disaster in North Carolina history. This entirely avoidable accident was reminiscent of workplace disasters of the past, with open employer contempt for safety regulations and the lives of their workers.

In 1980, [the factory] was purchased by Imperial Foods… The factory had no fire alarm system. The factory was used to process chicken for fast food restaurants and pre-frozen products for grocery stores. That meant cutting, bagging, weighing, and, most importantly for this story, frying it. About three-quarters of the workers were African-Americans. Hamlet is a small town close to the South Carolina border and the worker histories reflected that. Many of these workers had grown up doing farm work in the area and for some, this was their first factory job.

Imperial’s CEO Emmett Roe had moved from Pennsylvania to the South in order to bust the unions in his plants there and move to a state with a “more favorable regulatory climate,” ie, the kind of state that won’t inspect your factories or enforce safety violations… North Carolina regulators never inspected the factory because the budget for inspections was minuscule. In 11 years of operation, it received no fire inspections… According to one survivor of the fire, the plant managers locked the door to stop workers from stealing chicken. This was the same excuse sweatshop managers gave to locking the doors at Triangle when that disaster killed 146 workers in 1911.

[T]he deep fryer caught fire after a hydraulic line to a cooking vat failed, with obvious problems with it not found because of the company’s indifferent safety culture. It spread very quickly thanks to a combination of burning cooking oil, insulation, and exploding gas lines hanging from the ceiling. It didn’t help that all of the phones inside the building were nonfunctional. The workers at the front of the plant all managed to get out. But at the back of the plant the company did not place any fire alarms. Moreover, Imperial managers not only locked all the exits but sealed the windows as well. Those workers had nowhere to go. As an old plant, it was a maze of paths inside. The smoke meant they couldn’t find their way to the front. They were doomed. Like at Triangle, which this fire reminded many of, a few workers did get out the back by breaking open a locked loading bay, but most died. On one door, near charred bodies, blackened footprints could still be seen, signs of the desperate attempt to escape. Eighteen of the dead were women. Most of the dead were African-American.

—Erik Loomis
This Day in Labor History: September 3, 1991

California District Dreamin’: 10 and 25

Bryan Caforio - California District 25There are no more open toss-up districts. So I’m going to discuss some of the juicer campaigns. We have incumbents to talk about! So off we go to Frank’s current stomping grounds and my home state: California. So I am going to look at an almost certain Democratic pick-up, California District 25, and then the promising District 10.

California has a top two primary system. This creates some interesting general election contests. While this system was sold as a way to increase voter turn out, it doesn’t. It was supposed to make politics less partisan, it hasn’t. In fact, in a general sense, Top-Two Primary System Hasn’t Worked as Proponents Promised.

California District 25 (CA-25)

I start with the most vulnerable incumbent — Representative Steve Knight. Knight is known for his being conservative but not too conservative. Oh, and telling off his constituents after realizing that Congress-critters don’t have total power over the US government. He also has a fairly dismal record of working well with others, but at least he shows up for work.

He is facing challenger Bryan Caforio, an attorney originally from Los Angeles. Caforio seems to have one main flaw: he is new to the district. Otherwise he doesn’t seem capable of putting a single foot wrong. The Democrats have been active in getting voter registration figures up. This California District went from a 14,000 deficit (PDF) to a 5,000 advantage (PDF).

Caforio is stapling Trump all over Knight who keeps trying to duck questions about his party’s presidential nominee. Back in June, Caforio polled 6 percentage points down. A month later, he polled 8 points ahead of Knight in California District 25.

This means that this race is probably already over, even though no ballots have dropped. It should be an easy pick-up for the Democrats.

California District 10 (CA-10)

Michael Eggman - California District 10The current serving Representative in California District 10 is Republican Jeff Denham. He has been around since 2010, when he got the dubious distinction of getting dishonorable mention in CREW’s Most Corrupt Report. Otherwise, he has been a fairly conservative politician who works somewhat well with others. Outside of that he hasn’t done much to distinguish himself or make himself look bad.

He is facing, for the second time, a Democrat by the name of Michael Eggman. This is where sometimes looking stuff up on candidates will yield bizarre results. Michael Eggman is something of a stereotypical California dad. Well, he has had frosted tips. Regardless, he is definitely bringing up Trump.

There has been one poll done in the race by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research. It was done back in July and found Eggman losing by 7 percentage points. However, Eggman had little name recognition at that time. What’s more, the fundamentals of this California district are distinctly Democratic — 7 point advantage for a generic Democrat versus a generic Republican. Eggman’s problem is getting his name out there. And since he has less than a million dollars on hand, that might be difficult.

This may be a keep for the Republicans but hey, frosted tips can do wonders for a man!

Odd Words: Afflatus

Divine Inspiration of Music - AfflatusI am now on page five of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. Do you know what that means? Word that start with “ae.” And that also means a lot of, “See [word that starts with “e”].

I was struck by the definition of a fairly common word: aesthete. I do know that people very often use it as a pejorative. But I was still struck with this: “a lover of beautiful things, especially to the scornful exclusion of practicalities.” Ouch! Why is it necessary to throw “scornful” in there? It makes aesthetes sound like monsters!

Other Good Words

There were other good words as well. “Advalorem” has something to do with the value of something for the purpose of an import tax. There was also “afferent,” which has something to do with a nerve impulse toward the inside of the body. So maybe when you touch something, the signal moves in an afferent way? I don’t know. And I don’t have to know. It isn’t today’s word!

Today’s word is a great one: afflatus.

Af·fla·tus  noun  \ə-flā’-təs\

1. inspiration; knowledge or understanding. (Note: other sources tend to include the word “divine” in this definition.)

Date: 17th century.

Origin: it comes from the Latin word afflare, which means “to blow or breath on.”

Example: But [Thomas] Wolfe’s temperament was white-hot, his need to digest experience more urgent, and his style of expression too full of the divine afflatus, to the point where his bombastic writing strikes contemporary tastes as almost unreadable.Gerald Howard