020420 Ex-Workers Sue TysonApril 6, 2002
Chicago - Four former employees of Tyson Foods Inc. have filed suit accusing the world's largest poultry processor of depressing their wages by hiring illegal immigrants on the cheap, their lawyer said.
The suit, seeking class action status, comes on the heels of Tyson pleading not guilty to charges of being part of an alleged conspiracy to violate U.S. immigration law by smuggling illegal immigrants into the country to work in its plants.
The U.S. Justice Department said in December that two Tyson executives and four former managers were indicted on the charges after a federal undercover investigation lasting nearly three years. The government claimed Tyson used illegal workers as a way to boost company profits.
Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson, which employs 120,000 people at 130 sites across the country, said in a statement that the lawsuit had no merit.
"Tyson Foods was absolutely not involved in any conspiracy to suppress wages in any of its plants by violating immigration laws and deliberately hiring undocumented workers. We are convinced that, in the end, the facts of both these cases will bear this out," the company said.
The lawsuit against Tyson was filed by Birda Trollinger, Robert Martinez, Tabetha Eddings and Doris Jewell in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District in Tennessee.
"The basic theory (in the suit) is that Tyson is violating RICO (the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) by employing large numbers of illegal immigrants at 15 facilities causing the overall wage structure to be depressed," their lawyer, Howard Foster of Johnson & Bell law firm, said.
"Illegals were willing to work at very low wages, which affects the wage structure for all employees, legal and illegal," Foster said, adding that the services of his clients had been "terminated for various reasons" by Tyson.
He said his clients, who worked for Tyson the last four years, are seeking "the amount of wages that were depressed" during the period they were with Tyson.
Foster said he was in the process of determining the alleged wage difference between Tyson employees and industry standards, adding that his clients had not attempted to seek a negotiated settlement with Tyson before filing the lawsuit.
The suit alleges that Tyson relies on a large network of recruiters and temporary employment services for low-wage unskilled labor, often providing them transportation to one of its facilities.
Tyson pays recruiters and temporary employment services a fee for each illegal immigrant worker it hires. "The result is Tyson receives a constant stream of illegal immigrants seeking immediate employment," the lawsuit claimed.
"Tyson employment personnel hire these illegal immigrants with a wink and a nod, knowing they are being presented with falsified identification documents in order to establish work eligibility...," the lawsuit alleged.
A Tennessee grocer considered a key figure in the government's case against Tyson pleaded guilty in January to one conspiracy charge, and could face up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and restitution at his sentencing scheduled for May 20.
Amador Anchondo-Rascon, 43, was charged with acting as an "illegal recruiter, smuggler, and coordinator of transportation of illegal aliens" as well as with providing false documentation.
Tyson has said the two executives and four former managers indicted by the Justice Department had acted without the company's knowledge and that there was no corporate conspiracy to smuggle illegal immigrants to work at its plants.