Wage fixing lawsuit: Workers claim U.S. meat producers colluded

An antitrust lawsuit representing workers in the red meat processing industry is accusing 11 U.S. meat producers of colluding to suppress wages and benefits of employees since 2014, according to a press release.

Filed on Nov. 11 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, the class action lawsuit says the meat processors concealed violation of the Sherman Act, the federal antitrust law, resulting compensation lower than what the market would dictate for workers.

Production and maintenance employees at Agri Beef Co., American Foods Group, Cargill, Hormel, Iowa Premium, JBS, National Beef Packing Co., Perdue, Seaboard Foods, Smithfield, Triumph Foods, Tyson or Washington Beef at any point from 2014 to now could be eligible for compensation, according to the press release.

The 11 meat processors account for 80% of the production of red meat in the United States across 140 red meat processing plants.

“Only through calculated manipulation have these mega food companies been able to live so high on the hog,” said Steve Berman, managing partner at law firm Hagens Berman. “Through these cross-channel methods of subterfuge, as well as blatant no-poach agreements, the red meat processing industry has clearly acted with the goal of wage fixing.”

Hagens Berman has successfully recovered $134.6 million from wage fixing claims in the poultry industry so far, a revised press release said. A previous press release incorrectly stated the figure at $195 million.

The lawsuit states that the 11 meat processors held secret meetings and avoided written records. According to the complaint, no company could access sensitive data unless they provided their own, and the meat processing companies concealed compensation surveys.

Third-party companies — Webber, Meng, Sahl & Company Inc. and Agri Stats — are named in the lawsuit as “intentionally operating under the public’s radar…to exchange sensitive compensation data.”

“The company denies any and all wrongdoing,” said Daniel Sullivan, global media relations director, for Cargill in an email. “While we cannot comment with specificity during the pendency of litigation, Cargill sets compensation independently to ensure that it pays fair and competitive wages to employees in each of the company’s plants.”

Headquarted in Minnetonka, Minnesota, Cargill has plant locations in Des Moines, Iowa Falls and Cedar Rapids.

Meat processing plants make billions in recenue each year. JBS Foods made almost $30 billion in sales in 2020, while Tyson’s pork and beef divisions earned more than $20 billion in revenue the same year, the lawsuit said.