Major processors targeted in wage price-fixing lawsuit

The nation’s largest meat companies are being accused in a new federal lawsuit of colluding to fix wages covering thousands of employees as part of a 128-page filing.

The suit accuses affiliates of more than a dozen companies of conspiring to drive down wages paid to workers at beef and pork plants across the country by allegedly imposing “no-poach” agreements, exchanging data about compensation among workers through “detailed surveys” and imposing what were described as “highly regimented” wage schedules, according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. These activities allegedly began Jan. 1, 2014 and continued through the present, according to the court filing.

The 11 main defendants (and their affiliates) are accused of violating Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act and include American Foods Group, Cargill Inc., Hormel Foods Corp., JBS, National Beef, Perdue Farms, Seaboard Corp., Smithfield, Triumph Foods, Tyson Foods Inc., data aggregators Agri Beef, Agri-Stats Inc. and Weber, Meng, Sahl and Co., which allegedly distributed wage data, according to the lawsuit.

The list also includes Kraft Heinz — which is accused of providing a detailed wage survey in 2019 — Clemens Food Group, accused of setting “artificially depressed” wages based on compensation, and Indiana Packers, which allegedly benefited from Agri-Stats data.

The three main plaintiffs are seeking class action status for the lawsuit, which also seeks a jury trial to consider all allegations in addition to “reasonable attorneys’ fees” and other relief “deemed proper” by the court, the filing documents note.

The parties also have been ordered to file the Election Concerning Consent/Non-Consent to U.S. Magistrate Judge Jurisdiction form by Dec. 28 and the court has scheduled a scheduling conference for Jan. 17, 2023, according to additional court filings.