By Michael Hirtzer and Leah Nylen
The U.S. Justice Department is suing poultry producers including Cargill Inc. and Sanderson Farms Inc. for conspiring to keep wages down for workers who cut up chickens inside slaughterhouses.
The poultry producers conspired for at least two decades to collaborate with and assist competitors in making decisions about worker compensation, including wages and benefits, and exchange information about current and future compensation plans, according to a complaint filed Monday with the US District Court in Maryland. The processors also engaged in deceptive practices under the so-called tournament system, where growers are penalized if they underperform, the filing said.
The civil lawsuit comes after Cargill and Continental Grain Co. said Friday it closed its $4.5-billion deal to acquire Sanderson Farms and combine it with Wayne Farms, bringing together the third- and sixth-largest U.S. chicken companies.
Representatives from the companies didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment.
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