People recovering from drug or alcohol addiction face many personal, physical, and emotional challenges that necessitate medically-assisted inpatient care programs and long-term prevention support options. The Cenikor Foundation is one of the oldest and most successful rehabilitation organizations in the United States. Their website proudly promotes customizable and affordable treatment programs that are specifically designed to help people combat their addictions and reintegrate into their respective communities.
According to Cenikor’s website, their “Adult Long-Term Inpatient Treatment Programs are designed for people who are physically ready, mentally capable and willing to participate in all aspects of the recovery program, including education and workforce development.” However, “workforce development,” in this case, isn’t about helping patients find jobs suited to their unique talents and skills.
The Cenikor Foundation’s Illegal Business Model
A recent investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has discovered that The Cenikor Foundation is violating federal labor laws by outsourcing patients to work at some of the largest corporations in America, including Walmart, Exxon, and Shell. Amy Julia Harris and Shoshana Walters, investigative reporters for Reveal, explain in their article, “They worked in sweltering heat for Exxon, Shell and Walmart. They didn’t get paid a dime,” that the “constant work leaves little time for counseling or treatment, transforming rehab patients into a cheap, expendable labor pool for private companies.”
Cenikor’s business model is built on the fabrication that labor helps people recover from their addictions. For decades, this corrupt foundation has been dispatching vulnerable citizens to work for free at over 300 companies. These patients are working 10-14 hour shifts in deplorable environments while Cenikor pockets their earnings to supposedly offset the cost of its two-year program. In the article, Harris and Walters describe how “participants lacked proper supervision, safety equipment and training, leading to routine injuries. Over the last decade, nearly two dozen Cenikor workers have been seriously injured or maimed on the job, according to hundreds of pages of lawsuits, workers’ compensation records and interviews with former staff.” Unfortunately, Cenikor does not have a legal obligation to report occupational injuries to Texas rehab regulators.
Profit vs. Recovery
During the investigation, Reveal interviewed many former patients and Cenikor staff members, including Peggy Billeaudeau, who was employed as the organization’s Baton Rouge clinical director in 2015. During her own investigation, Billeaudeau uncovered evidence that staffers routinely canceled doctor and attorney appointments to make sure each patient worked up to 80 hours a week. To this day, Cenikor counselors routinely fabricate records to make it seem like patients are receiving counseling or therapy when they’re actually working offsite. When Billeaudeau confronted Cenikor officials about this matter in 2015, she was told, “Peggy, don’t touch that with a 10-foot pole…Get the money.” Billeaudeau ended her employment in 2016.
Cenikor officials protect their corrupt business model by offering companies cheap workers who are routinely drug tested and always on time; the organization pays for transportation, covers the costs of insurance, and even charges less than staffing agencies. The organization even silences its staff by promoting a competitive environment where employees are awarded large bonuses based on quarterly profit margins. Patients, meanwhile, are told their paychecks are being used to pay for their lodging and daily necessities.
Labor experts across the country are understandably horrified by Cenikor’s business model and are convinced it’s illegal under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which conditions that all workers in the United States are entitled to both minimum wage and overtime pay. Instead, this Texas-based “nonprofit” earned over $7 million from these work contracts, making it one of the most lucrative work-based rehabilitation organizations in the country.
An Ongoing Social Problem
The Cenikor Foundation is not the only organization guilty of functioning as a work camp for private industries. Reveal has been investigating many facilities across the country and has exposed various instances of untrained patients working at assisted living facilities, oil refineries, meat processing plants, and more. In the past, these organizations, including Cenikor, have been protected by sitting lawmakers, judges, and even former Republican presidents.
The Department of Labor had an opportunity to investigate Cenikor’s labor abuses back in 1994 when Loren Simonis graduated from the program and filed a complaint with the wage and hour office. However, Reveal uncovered records that proved the Department of Labor refused to investigate the complaint, and that Cenikor silenced Simonis by offering an undisclosed monetary settlement. In light of the Reveal article, the Department of Labor and other affiliated agencies are now being pressured to truly investigate this monumental abuse of power
Rely on an Experienced & Trial-Tested Employment Law Attorney
The Chopin Law Firm, LLC is an award-winning personal injury and employment law firm that provides exceptional legal services to the residents of Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi. Contact our New Orleans employment lawyers immediately if you are a victim of The Cenikor Foundation or any other rehabilitation organization. Our legal team has notable experience in representing cases relating to wage and hour disputes, workplace safety, retaliation disputes, and whistleblowing.