Ex-work­ers sue com­pany for wages, cite harm from il­le­gals

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jerry Seper

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.

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