Perdue Farms is preparing to defend itself against charges it regularly hires and harbors undocumented immigrant workers.
Lawyers for the company said Friday they feel there is no merit to a class action lawsuit. It accuses Perdue of criminal conspiracy in hiring illegal aliens at 16 of its poultry processing facilities in eight states. One of the plants named is in Rockingham.
The Richmond County plant employs about 1,300 workers. There are three others in North Carolina - Fayetteville, Concord and Lewistown.
It was filed in U.S. District Court in Alabama on behalf of anyone who worked for the company legally between March 2006 and March 2010.
Lance Oliver, an attorney for the South Carolina firm Motley Rice, one of three law firms representing plaintiffs in the suit, accused the company of illegal hiring practices in a press release.
“Our clients have alleged that this hiring scheme is perpetrated every day as an integral part of Perdue’s regular hiring and employment practices and that it will continue unabated, victimizing legal workers until halted by judicial intervention,” he said.
The release also accuses the company of saving millions of dollars on labor costs by hiring undocumented workers, thereby suppressing the wages of legal workers.
Perdue Vice President of Corporate Communication Luis Luna said the company doesn’t comment on the specifics of lawsuits, but it will defend itself against the charges.
“Perdue takes immigration compliance very seriously,” Luna said. “We use e-verify, and do regular audits by outside companies, to confirm the employees we hire at Perdue are documented residents of the United States.”
In June 2008, Perdue Farms agreed to pay $800,000 to settle charges that it discriminated against more than 5,000 non-Hispanic at processing plants in Rockingham, Dillon, S.C. and Monterey, Tenn.
The company also agreed to hire more than 750 non-Hispanic laborers, including 430 at the Rockingham plant, and give them retroactive service dates for benefits such as vacation and sick days and transfer and promotion rights.
The lawsuit alleges plant managers and human resources personnel of the company engaged in a criminal conspiracy to hire undocumented immigrants, violating the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Statute.
A similar lawsuit leveled against Perdue competitor Tyson Foods by four of its employees was thrown out of federal court in Tennessee in 2008. The “plaintiffs failed to demonstrate Tyson was harboring or concealing illegal aliens.”
Howard Foster, an attorney from Chicago, represented those employees, and is also listed as one of three law firms for the plaintiffs in this suit.
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