- Suit alleges scheme to drive down pay for poultry workers
- Pilgrim’s will pay and cooperate, settlement motion says
JBS SA subsidiary Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. will pay $29 million to resolve antitrust claims over its alleged role in an industrywide scheme to depress pay for the largely immigrant workforce employed at poultry processing plants, according to a federal court filing in Baltimore.
The employees leading the lawsuit sought preliminary approval from Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher for the agreement, which would let Pilgrim’s exit the proposed class action moving forward in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.
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The $29 million figure comes to “roughly $2 million for each percentage point of Pilgrim’s relevant market share—a remarkable financial recovery for such an early-stage settlement,” the filing says.
In addition to the cash payment, the agreement calls for Pilgrim’s to cooperate against the other poultry processors accused of colluding to depress the pay of workers through unlawful exchanges of sensitive information and annual secret meetings.
The other defendants include Tyson Foods Inc., Hormel Food Corp., Sanderson Farms Inc., Perdue Farms Inc., Cargill Inc., Butterball LLC, Koch Foods Inc., ContiGroup Cos., Mountaire Farms Inc., Simmons Foods Inc., George’s Inc., Fieldale Farms Corp., Peco Foods Inc., and Webber Meng Sahl & Co.
The suit, filed in 2019, also targets Agri Stats Inc., which compiles the farm sector databases the poultry processors allegedly used to trade wage information. Gallagher let the case move forward in March.
It’s part of a wave of cartel cases involving livestock and protein, including beef, turkey, pork, tuna, salmon, and eggs. Most of the suits allege price-fixing schemes centering on the illegal laundering of price or wage data through Agri Stats.
The poultry industry has been particularly hard hit. Along with the price-fixing and wage-fixing claims, top processors are accused of a scheme to drive down pay for chicken farmers until they’re permanently indebted “modern sharecroppers.”
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Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, and Handley Farah & Anderson PLLC are interim co-lead counsel for the poultry workers.
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