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The Imperial Foods Fire 20 Years Later

Jeremy Sprinkle
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Have we forgotten?

Saturday, September 3, 2011 is the 20th anniversary of North Carolina's deadliest industrial accident. Harry Payne of the NC Justice Center wrote about it in an op-ed today in the News & Observer:

Twenty years ago tomorrow, at 8:30 in the morning, the Imperial Foods plant exploded into flames in Hamlet, leaving 25 dead and many more injured.

Footprints left on locked exit doors were the signature of those trapped and killed, and a symbol of our public shame that we had let it happen here.

It is folly to write off Imperial Foods as a rogue outlier or a rare cancer that, once removed, could no longer harm. We risk important lessons in doing so. At its core, this was a labor-intensive, wage-sensitive North Carolina employer supplying a product, pre-cooked chicken, in a price-competitive market. Employee safety was not a value or priority, and the owner simply bet on not being caught. Employees had little recourse by complaint because of fear, need and the scarcity of jobs.

None of those conditions is rare.

Click here to read the rest of the story and keep the victims ans the survivors of the fire in your thoughts this Labor Day weekend.