Turner egg farm workers evicted from company trailers

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

"I don't know that we'll even have jobs tomorrow," said Ramone Ramirez, right, after fighting an eviction with his wife, Raquel Rodriguez, left, at a court hearing Wednesday in Lewiston. The couple is being evicted from a company-owned trailer at the former DeCoster Egg Farm in Turner.

LEWISTON — For Raquel Rodriguez, it is no small thing to know for sure that her family has a place to stay through the holidays.

After that, it's anyone's guess.

"I could go back to Texas, and I guess that's what I'm planning to do," Rodriguez said. "But I like Maine, and I like the schools here and I don't want to have to leave."

An agreement in Lewiston District Court on Wednesday gives Rodriguez and nine other tenant-employees of the former DeCoster Egg Farm in Turner until the end of February to vacate the company-provided trailers they call home.

The company declined to say why the tenants were being evicted. It could have enforced the eviction as soon as Christmas Day — seven days after the hearing. Instead, it agreed to give the group time to find new homes, and maybe new jobs.

"I don't know what's going to happen after this," Rodriguez said. "They may not want us back. They may not let us come back."

It's been a home since 2009 for Rodriguez, her husband, Ramone Ramirez, and her four children. She works five days a week in the operation's plant No. 2, packing eggs in boxes. Ramirez works at the egg farm as a crew chief in charge of maintenance at one of the barns, which houses 450,000 birds.

"Reason I took the job was for the housing," Rodriguez said. "It's the only reason I've stayed at the job, and if I can't live in the trailer, I don't see the point of keeping the job."

Rodriguez moved her family from Texas to Maine to take the job. She'd just earned a certificate as a medical assistant in Texas and planned to take some time in Maine to settle in, working at the egg farm while she looked for a medical office that would hire her.

She learned when she got here that Maine's rules for medical assistants are more strict then those in Texas.

"I planned to pack eggs for three months, but I didn't know my certificate was no good up here," she said. "I need another year of school to work as a medical assistant."

The job at the egg farm was some comfort, however. It is exhausting labor, but it's given her and Ramirez steady wages and has provided a roof over their heads.

"You knew that you were getting paid less, but the housing was a benefit," she said.

The egg-farm operation provided rent-free housing for employees in 19 trailers near the Turner operation. It was part of the job package, Rodriguez said.

But today, only five trailers are occupied and Moark — the company that took over the operation in 2011 — is looking to close out the last five, she said.

The company's legal representative, attorney Michael Donlan of the Portland law firm Verrill Dana, declined to comment Wednesday. Company spokeswoman Rebecca Lentz said in an email that Moark has been working with the tenants to find new housing.

"While the timing of the eviction proceedings unfortunately coincides with the holidays, the occupants of the trailers were first notified of the intent to close the trailers in May 2013," Lentz wrote. "We have repeatedly provided access to assistance to occupants to help them secure new housing."

Lentz was asked why the company has decided to close the trailers, but she had not answered by late Wednesday.

Rodriguez and other tenants say the trailers are in need of repairs and are becoming uninhabitable. The trailers have water, but it's been just a trickle since Thanksgiving.

"You can't even take a shower or flush the toilet," Rodriguez said. "The best you can do is fill up a glass and dump it over your head."

She and some of the other tenant-workers are considering hiring a lawyer. They allege the company is targeting Hispanic employees.

"Coming up to the trailer, it was a good thing at first and it helped me out a lot," she said. "I won't deny that. But it's become a very bad thing for all of us now."

staylor@sunjournal.com

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

The majority of the workers have moved out of the trailer park owned Moark egg farm on Tidswell Road in Turner. Only a few, including this dog's owner, remain.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

An abandoned playground marks the entrance to the mostly abandoned trailer park in Turner owned by Moark egg farm.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Luis Rodriguez holds his son Isaul, 1, in the kitchen area of the trailer he shares with his wife and two other children in Turner. Originally from Puerto Rico, Rodriguez moved to Turner for the promise of a job that also offered a place to live. He no longer works for the Moark egg farm, and has until February to find another place to live.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

The water in Luis Rodriguez's trailer in Turner is a constant dribble.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

The floor near Raquel Rodriguez and Ramone Ramirez's front door has rotted, forcing the family of six to stuff T-shirts and towels in the holes to stop the cold air from drafting into the Turner trailer.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Luis Rodriguez says he has a hard time keeping his son Isaul, 1, away from an electrical outlet that was broken out of the wall by a former tenant in the Turner trailer where he lives. He has to use a space heater to keep the place warm, saying that a broken door makes the place cold.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Ramone Ramirez looks over the broken door frame of his Turner trailer, which is owned by Moark egg farm. Ramirez was given until the end of February to find a new place to live after being evicted from the property by his employer.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Raquel Rodriguez says living in the trailer was part of an employment agreement.

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Comments

Moark isn't saying why? You

Moark isn't saying why? You have to ask? The Tennants pretty said it, as do the pictures. Slumlords in the inner city take better care of their properties. Obviously, Moark inherited these trailers when they took over the operation from Decoster, and they took one look and realized the expense of bringing the trailers up to code was more even than giving the workers a raise (no hint in the article whether they are offering a pay increase to cover housing, except Mark saying they've "done what they could" to assist). Got nothing to do with targeting hispanics. In fact, I'd say forcing them to live in those conditions would be worse than kicking them out.

I've never been out there, but my previous employer maintained their printers for a while when Jack still owned it, and I heard some pretty scary stories from colleagues about what they would find out there.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Wayne ? Ayuh " Slumlords in

Wayne ? Ayuh " Slumlords in the inner city take better care of their properties. " Except that felon Travis Soule , 'natch :)
ref: Lewiston developer sentenced to 14 months for misappropriating ...
Apr 5, 2012 ... PORTLAND — Former Twin Cities developer Travis Soule was sentenced Thursday to 14 months in federal prison, followed by three years /s Steve Dosh , Hawaii •

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Although the article stated

Although the article stated that the company's reasons for the evictions have yet to be made public, the pictures above make the reasons abundantly clear. The place is an uninhabitable dump.
Went to De Coster's once several years ago in the dead of summer to measure several areas outside of the barns and silos. Took me about 90 minutes to complete my task, but it took me three days before I finally got all the flies out of my car. Can't imagine living there.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Friends . .. DeCoster is

Friends . ..
DeCoster is owned by Land 'o Lakes now , correct ?
i believe so . ..
/s Steve Dosh

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Back in the late eighties............

Back in the eighties when I worked for Oxford phone company, I spent about three weeks there after a big fire destroyed their phone system. 10-4 on the flies, but you failed to mention the aromatic scent coming from the "Rendering Plan", kind of bought tears to your eyes. At the time, my property in N Turner, abutted Decostas,fortunately up wind of the place............

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

I may have been desensitized

I may have been desensitized to that in particular since everything there seemed to have a foul smell to it as I recall.

CAROLYN LIBBEY's picture

This is unfortunate, but

This is unfortunate, but allegedly these people knew in May they would have to find alternate housing. The photographs show an abode that looks uninhabitable. Unless they have a signed agreement with the company regarding the responsibilities of the owners and themselves, they may, indeed should return to Texas where their options may be more favorable. And moving from Texas to Maine? A little like moving from Florida to Siberia. It makes you wonder why the move from Texas, where the wife would have had a better chance of working as a medical assistant, rather than finding out when they got here that the requirements for that work differ sometimes from state to state. I guess when all else fails, there's always the "Hispanic" card.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I thought they closed those trailers twenty years ago..........

All I can say is, I hope the trailers there now, aren't the same ones that were there twenty five years ago. Come to think of it I thought they evicted everyone years ago. Back in the eighties there would be trailers full of bunk beds. I remember after one fire there was nothing standing but the bunk beds and all the piles of beer cans where the plastic bags had melted. That is the same playground in the picture, but I hope they replaced all the trailers. Then again, if I was going to be evicted from someplace I'd want it to be from that place.
As for moving the operation over seas, have you ever seen the size of that place? I don't know what they are paying now, but whatever it was, it wasn't enough. At least when Jack DeCosta ran the place.............

KATHY WILLIAMSON's picture

Whatever it costs, even with

Whatever it costs, even with the low pay and inadequate benefits, you can still do it cheaper in a country where there's even less regulation than we have. Chickens will get abused even worse and eggs will start coming in full of chemicals or hormones or whatever. But we'll buy them, because we love to get bad stuff cheap.

JOANNE MOORE's picture

What do you mean "we", Kathy?

I buy my eggs locally. They come from hens that have a life outside in good weather.. Cage free. They are not fed antibiotics, hormones or genitically modified feed (soy, corn). Same goes for meat we buy. Yes, it costs more, but really, does it? We won't get poisoned which might mean a doctor's visit or worse.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Nezinscot Farm?

Nezinscot Farm?

JOANNE MOORE's picture

Bissons

over in topsham.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Good to know.

Good to know.

JOANNE MOORE's picture

Paul, if you ever get down this way.......

........check it out. It is a small place, family run, and they have the best meat, dairy, and a heck of a lot more. Closed on Mondays.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Will do. Thanks for the tip.

Will do. Thanks for the tip.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Paul ? Alt : Buy a hen .

Paul ? Alt : Buy a hen . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DhjfRW3Ev0 Melé Kalikimaka • /s Dr. Dosh Duck and rhode island red hen owner . ..

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

I've owned laying hens,

I've owned laying hens, Steve. There was always more chicken s**t than eggs.

KATHY WILLIAMSON's picture

It's a pay cut.

Some companies, like UPS, are kicking spouses off of their employees' insurance policies. DeCoster doesn't pay benefits, so the only thing they have to yank is the housing. But no matter how they do it, it's a pay cut. Corporations have no intention of paying a living wage, not when they can still pull up stakes and move to smoggy China whenever they want.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

It's all about business

It's all about business climate and Maine's sucks.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

It's all about business

It's all about business climate and Maine's sucks.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Technical difficulties; sorry

Technical difficulties; sorry about the double post.

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