Ex-workers sue company for wages, cite harm from illegals
A$23millionlawsuitby18former employees at Swift & Co., which was targetedtwoweeksagoinraidsbythe government over its hiring of illegal aliens,saysthemeat-processingcompany conspired to keep down wages by hiring the illegal workers.
The former workers, all legal U.S. residents who worked at a Swift processing plant in Cactus, Texas, said they were the “victims in a longstandingscheme”bythecompanyto “depress and artificially lower the wages of its workers” by knowingly hiring illegal aliens.
“Bylesseningitslaborcostsandincreasingitsprofits,Swifthasseverely damaged the potential earnings and livelihood of these hardworking men andwomen,”saidlawyerAngelReyes III, who represents the 18 former workers.
Swift officials did not respond to calls for comment, although they have denied any wrongdoing in the company’s hiring practices.
The lawsuit, which seeks $23 million in exemplary damages and the backwagestheywouldhavereceived if they had remained employed, was filed late on Dec. 15 in U.S. District CourtinDallas.ItaccusesSwiftunder thefederalRacketeerInfluencedand Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) of engaginginaracketeeringconspiracy to manipulate commerce.
“When the Swift plant opened in Cactus, wages were approximately $20 an hour,” another plaintiffs attorney, Michael Heygood, told reporters in Texas. “Now, the average wageisapproximately$12to$13an hour. Illegal immigration has fueled this depression in wages.”
U.S.ImmigrationandCustomsEnforcement (ICE) agents who swept through the six meat-processing plants two weeks ago arrested 1,282 illegal aliens as part of an ongoing investigation into a massive identitytheft conspiracy. The arrests culminated a 10-month ICE probe known as Operation Wagon Train that targeted workers at Swift plants in Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Iowa and Minnesota.
Those arrested included illegal aliensfromMexico,Guatemala,Honduras,ElSalvador,Peru,Laos,Sudan and Ethiopia.
HomelandSecurityAssistantSecretary Julie L. Myers, who heads ICE, said the use of fraudulent doc- uments by illegal aliens seeking employment has been a “significant problem” that in recent years had evolvedintoa“disturbingnewtrend.”
Mrs.MyerssaidICEinvestigators discovered in February that Swift workershadassumedtheidentitiesof others to circumvent employmenteligibility screening and uncovered evidence that hundreds of illegal aliens used stolen Social Security cardsandotheridentitydocumentsto gainemployment.Shesaidtheillegals obtained the documents from a variety of document rings and vendors.
Swift, which sought in an unsuccessful lawsuit to stop the raids, has not been charged. The company, which employs 15,000 workers, arguedthattheraidswouldcause“substantial and irreparable injury” to its business. That lawsuit was filed Dec. 4 after ICE informed Swift that the agency intended to remove illegal aliens.
The raids forced Swift to suspend operations, but the company announced one day later that it had resumed operations at all six facilities, although at reduced output levels.
“All facilities continue to operate today on all shifts. Initial output levels are expected to be below normal levels over the short term,” the firm said.“Thecompanyanticipatesnoadverse long-term impacts to its operations and remains confident in its abilitytoservecustomers.Nocivilor criminal charges have been filed against Swift & Company.”
Withmorethan$9billioninannual sales, Swift is the world’s secondlargest processor of fresh beef and pork.