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Chicken Manufacturers Accused of Conspiring to Keep Immigrant Workers' Wages Down

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Many of America’s leading poultry manufacturers have been hit with a lawsuit alleging that they’ve been working together to keep immigrant’s wages low. Big Chicken The lawsuit, which has been filed in a Baltimore federal court, alleges that leaders of 90% of the American poultry industry, including Tyson Foods, Sanderson Farms and Perdue Farms, have been conspiring since 2009 to depress migrants wages to about $11 on average, below the poverty line. According to Bloomberg, the suit alleges that 18 companies would use consulting agencies as intermediaries and share detailed wage information. The suit also claims the companies would share information about benefits such as insurance, time off and retirement-plan contributions through annual surveys, and that officials at chicken-processing plants would also help obtain wage information. Passing the Buck According to the National Chicken Council, Americans will eat an estimated 94.3 pounds of chicken each in 2019, paying about $1.90 a pound. But getting the chicken to your plate is one of the toughest jobs around, as workers are exposed to live animals and sharp knives, and according to a 2015 Oxfam report, about 72% of poultry workers reported significant work-related illnesses or injuries. It’s getting to the point that chicken companies are finding it harder to find workers, and the Trump Administration’s crackdowns on migrants, often the only people willing to do the job in some areas, makes finding people even tougher. So it seems like wages would naturally go up in order to attract more workers to the positions, but that appears not to be the case. Many of the chicken companies listed in the lawsuit declined to comment, but a Purdue spokesperson insisted their wages were fair, if not above average. Fix Me Three years ago the food distributor Maplevale Farm filed a class-action lawsuit, accusing the leaders of the chicken industry of using the data company Agri Stats Inc to fix prices. This triggered a flood of lawsuits from consumers, distributors, and grocery chains until the Justice Department intervened, requesting a hold on the proceedings while it pursued its own criminal investigation. -Michael Tedder Photo by Carlo Allegri/REUTERS