Lawsuit accuses largest U.S. meat producers of wage-fixing

FILE - Ground beef is displayed in a market in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, July 12, 2022. A federal class action suit accuses 11 of the largest beef and pork producers in the United States of conspiring to drive down the wages and benefits of its workers.  The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Denver last week.  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

FILE – Ground beef is displayed in a market in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, July 12, 2022. A federal class action suit accuses 11 of the largest beef and pork producers in the United States of conspiring to drive down the wages and benefits of its workers. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Denver last week. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

PA

Three meat plant workers have filed a federal lawsuit accusing 11 of the largest beef and pork producers in the United States of conspiring to drive down wages and benefits.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court in Denver, seeks class-action status and alleges the producers have worked together since at least 2014 to keep workers’ compensation lower than the market would allow, in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

It was presented by two meat plant workers from Iowa and one from Georgia, but seeks to represent hundreds of thousands of others who have worked in jobs ranging from slaughter to production in the 140 collective factories of enterprises. Together, the factories produce about 80% of the red meat sold to American consumers, according to the lawsuit.

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., as well as certain subsidiaries.

Cargill has denied any wrongdoing.

“While we cannot comment specifically during the pendency of the litigation, Cargill sets compensation independently to ensure it pays fair and competitive wages to employees at each of the company’s plants,” said company spokesman Daniel Sullivan.

Perdue Farms spokeswoman Andrea Staub declined to comment, saying the company was not discussing the pending lawsuits. Smithfield spokesman Jim Monroe said the company has not had a chance to review the allegations and has not commented at this time. Representatives for the other companies did not immediately return emails and phone messages seeking comment on Wednesday.

Two consulting firms that allegedly helped meat producers exchange compensation information are also named as defendants in the lawsuit, which was brought by lawyers for Hagens Berman.

“Our company got $195 million from the poultry processing industry for the same antitrust behavior. The meat industry sauce ends here,” the law firm’s managing partner said. , Steve Berman, in a trial announcement Wednesday.

The lawsuit alleges the meat producers held secret meetings to discuss wages and communicated about them surreptitiously to avoid having a paper trail of the conversations.

This story was originally published November 16, 2022 4:25 p.m.

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