Three meat factory workers have filed a federal lawsuit accusing 11 of the United States’ largest beef and pork producers of conspiracy to depress wages and benefits.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court in Denver, seeks class action status and alleges that since at least 2014, the producers have worked together to keep workers’ compensation below what the market would allow, in violation of Sherman’s law. Antitrust Act.
It was brought by two meat plant workers from Iowa and one from Georgia, but seeks to represent hundreds of thousands of other people who have worked in jobs from slaughter to production at the companies’ combined 140 plants. According to the lawsuit, the factories collectively produce about 80% of the red meat sold to US consumers.
The companies are JBS USA Food Company, Cargill Inc., Hormel Foods Corp., American Foods Group LLC, Triumph Foods LLC, Seaboard Foods LLC, National Beef Packing Co. LLC, Iowa Premium LLC, Smithfield Foods Inc., Agri Beef Co. and Perdue Farms Inc., along with some subsidiaries.
Cargill denied any allegations.
“While we are unable to comment specifically during the pending litigation, Cargill sets compensation independently to ensure it pays fair and competitive wages to workers at each of the company’s plants,” said company spokesman Daniel Sullivan.
Perdue Farms spokesperson Andrea Staub declined to comment, saying the company does not discuss pending litigation. Smithfield spokesman Jim Monroe said the company has not had a chance to review the allegations and has no comment at this time. Representatives from the other companies did not immediately return emails and phone calls on Wednesday seeking comment.
Two consultancies that allegedly helped the meat producers exchange compensation information are also named as defendants in the lawsuit, which was brought by attorneys for Hagens Berman.
“Our company has raised $195 million in the poultry processing industry for the same antitrust conduct. The meat industry’s justice train ends here,” the law firm’s managing partner Steve Berman said in a lawsuit announcement Wednesday.
The lawsuit alleges that the meat producers held secret meetings to discuss wages and communicated about them covertly to avoid having written records of the talks.
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