Jack DeCoster is possibly the most infamous Maine businessman of all time. He's known nationwide for sickening more than 1000 people in a massive salmonella outbreak last summer, which was traced to henhouses in Iowa piled with mounds of excrement and infested with rodents, maggots, and flies. His reputation in Ohio is such that he's resorted to hiding his henhouse ownership behind frontmen, while he quit Maryland long ago after authorities there caught him violating a salmonella quarantine. Iowa's Republican governor, Terry Branstad, has publicly said DeCoster is "a bad egg" who's "been trouble since he came here from Maine."
Here in Maine, the Turner-based egg magnate has run up four decades of serious labor, safety, health, and environmental violations. He's paid millions in fines for "the use of oppressive child labor" and violations of minimum wage and overtime rules (in the 1970s); threatening Latino workers living in a squalid company-owned trailer park and other "egregious and willful" violations of health, safety, and wage laws (in the 1990s); and one of the state's worst animal-cruelty cases (in 2009).
Which is why many were shocked to learn that Republican Representative Dale Crafts of Lisbon is trying to absolve DeCoster's farms of requirements that they pay minimum wage and overtime to their workers, and allow collective bargaining. His bill, LD 1207, is currently under consideration by legislators, and would repeal provisions of a law passed unanimously in 1975 that targets DeCoster and, were they to be established in Maine, any other "farm with over 300,000 laying birds."
"I do not think DeCoster Egg Farms has done anything to merit a favor, which is what this actually is," says former Maine attorney general James Tierney, who sponsored the 1975 law while serving in the legislature.
"It bothers me that a government can just pick a business out and write a law. I think that has a resemblance to what a communist type nation would do," Crafts explains, adding that Maine is the only state in the nation that requires large egg producers to pay minimum wage. (Most agricultural operations are exempted under federal law.) "That doesn't attract businesses to Maine; it keeps them away. We're an agricultural state, and that's something we could expand here."
"If DeCoster is in violation, then they ought to prosecute. That's why we have these laws," he continues. "We don't need to make more of them."
Republican Representative Jeffrey Timberlake of Turner agrees, noting that the fact DeCoster has been caught so many times shows the system works and, therefore, can do without the 1975 provisions. "If someone's doing something wrong, they should be arrested and prosecuted," he says. "But we shouldn't all set rules in different parts of the country."
"I don't think anybody should be able to harm anybody or treat anybody unfairly," he adds. "But I'm so sick and tired of watching my children and grandchildren move out of the state of Maine because they can't find a good job here. That's what this is about, not Jack DeCoster." (Timberlake was a clean-elections candidate, but received $100 of his requisite $500 in seed money from DeCoster farm manager Doucas Goranites.)