GEORGETOWN, Del.—A few years back, Maria Elena Montano had a problem. She says that a supervisor at the poultry-processing plant where she worked had begun targeting her with write-ups and complaints. It all stemmed from when she reported worms in a box of chickens on the line, she told me.
It was not just her: The plant where Montano worked has been cited by the U.S. Department of Labor for causing musculoskeletal disorders in workers and for not allowing workers permission to go to the bathroom. (Poultry processing facilities are some of the worst places to work in America, according to Debbie Berkowitz, a former senior policy advisor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.)
Montano went to her union and complained about her supervisor, she says, but the union wouldn’t help. She tried talking to other managers, but they sided with her boss. She even tried to get other employees to speak about what a hard worker she was, to prove that it wasn’t her who was in the wrong.
But no one would help her. So Montano did something unusual: She called Kevin Andrade, whom she refers to as her “radio guy.” Andrade is the host of Hola in the Morning, a popular Spanish-language show based in this small Delaware town of 6,000 that’s almost 50 percent Latino. On air, she complained about the union and about the company, naming names, and was particularly venomous toward one union representative, who she said was incompetent. “I called him on the radio and told him he needed to show his face and that he was done stealing from the workers,” Montano told me, through a translator, in the small trailer she shares with her three children. She recalled saying, “You know who I am, call me, defend yourself, explain yourself.’”