Cargill, Sanderson Farms and Wayne Farms agree to pay over $84
Three of the largest U.S. poultry processors have agreed to settle Justice Department claims over their alleged long-running efforts to share worker information to reduce compensation, Reuters reported.
Cargill, Sanderson Farms and Wayne Farms have agreed to pay more than $84 million in compensation to workers harmed by information sharing to resolve civil antitrust lawsuits, according to proposed consent decrees made public Monday.
The government has also sued and reached a settlement with a data consulting firm, Webber, Meng, Sahl and Co.
“Through a brazen system of wage and benefit information exchange, these poultry processors have stifled competition and hurt a generation of factory workers who face demanding and sometimes dangerous conditions for make a living,” Doha Mekki of the Justice Department’s antitrust division said in a statement.
Under the deal, Cargill Meat Solutions is to pay $15 million, Sanderson $38.3 million and Wayne $31.5 million.
The settlement was filed Monday in a U.S. District Court in Maryland shortly after the lawsuits were filed.
Wayne Farms said it was happy to resolve the issue and the agreement shows its commitment to workers and farmers. Cargill denied wrongdoing, but said it made arrangements with the Justice Department to avoid litigation and distractions.
The department also said it had reached an agreement with Cargill and Continental Grain, which reached an agreement on Friday to buy Sanderson Farms, the third-largest chicken producer. Sanderson will be merged with Wayne Farms, a subsidiary of Continental Grain.
Under the deal, companies won’t be allowed to lower chicken farmers’ base pay, but will be allowed to offer incentives. The agreement also prohibits retaliation for producers who raise antitrust concerns with the government.
The Justice Department tried this year and failed to convict executives of poultry supply companies on price-fixing charges. Two trials ended in mistrials while a third resulted in an acquittal.