The Department of Justice (DOJ) has reached a $5.8 million settlement with George’s Inc. in an illegal wage suppression conspiracy among the nation’s largest poultry processors. This follows a similar $85 million settlement last year with Cargill, Sanderson Farms, and Wayne Farms, on similar charges of wage suppression. Collectively, poultry processors employing 90 percent of poultry workers engaged in an at least 20-year conspiracy to suppress wages. They shared information on compensation plans for years, and when workers and investigators started asking questions, they tried to cover up their illegality. This means for at least two decades the vast majority of poultry workers were robbed of their bargaining power to make a living. Twenty years of robbery in a continuous illegal conspiracy and no one is going to jail. The mystery of the labor shortage seems to be solved by the existence of an overabundance of abusive employers.
The poultry industry also, not shockingly, wants immigration reform. During this industry-wide poultry processing conspiracy to suppress the wages of their employees, they have been routinely advocating for the ability to import more cheap foreign labor to the United States. The Poultry Federation was lamenting (you guessed it) an inability to find American workers as a reason for expanding cheap foreign labor. Now, of course, we know they struggled to find American workers because they were illegally suppressing wages industry-wide. Louisiana crawfish workers alleged wage suppression in their industry recently, as well, with employers submitting wage surveys in H-2B petitions that were artificially low.
When their cheap labor demands were not met, the poultry industry has also resorted to illegally hiring children in their extremely dangerous plants. The poultry industry was a major supporter of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which passed the House of Representatives last Congress, which would have provided foreign agricultural workers amnesty and citizenship if they agreed to be indentured servants to the agricultural industry. This, too, was occurring at the same time as the vast wage suppression conspiracy.
The American Immigration Council should be re-examining its foolish stand on foreign labor. In 2022, they released a report praising the role of foreign workers in stabilizing food prices and lamenting the high wages paid to foreign workers. While they talked extensively about how important foreign labor was to the agriculture and meat industries, it slipped their mind to consider that wage fixing, forced labor, and other exploitation might be the culprit for the supposed “shortage” of American workers. It was about two months after the American Immigration Council released their report that the DOJ settled with three poultry processors for this 20-year wage suppression conspiracy. Whoops.
For all the talk of jobs Americans won’t do and labor shortages, one peek behind the curtain reveals the problem is with extensive labor exploitation. The poultry processing industry is just the latest in a string of examples of exploitation across the country of both foreign and domestic workers. From wage theft to forced and child labor, workers are paying a high price for cheap goods and services. The cheap labor bubble is bursting. It is time to recognize that the price for cheap goods and services (relatively speaking, given current inflation) is worker exploitation. The whole song and dance is an illusion.
But the business community is heavily invested in this Ponzi scheme. They are the entity most committed to so-called immigration reform because they want to keep up the con. One minute they are slandering American workers as layabouts who refuse to work. Next, they threaten struggling American consumers with shortages and rising prices. No matter the economic situation of the country, the solution they provide is massive increases to the cheap labor supply. And yet the stories of their exploitation reveal the real cause of difficulty hiring Americans. With each revealed story of wage theft or forced labor it becomes clearer that the shortage is not of American workers, but rather the shortage is good paying jobs with safe and fair working conditions.
The media and policy makers also insist on pushing this worker shortage narrative. No amount of these worker exploitation stories seems able to move them away from it. They cling tightly to the narrative as if it is their life raft in a raging storm. This is likely because the business community is both the source of the media’s advertising revenue and the politician’s campaign contributions. Left out of this is consideration of the masses who actually work for a living. When you hear yet another lie about worker shortages and jobs Americans won’t do, remember these stories. The expansion of foreign workers they call for is nothing but a call for new vulnerable workers to exploit. They do this as they layoff Americans or conspire to suppress or steal their wages. Why should we be taking advice on immigration and labor policy from industries that demonstrate a callous willingness to violate both? It is abundantly clear, and coming more into focus by the day, that what we really need is a reduction in cheap labor and an expansion of policies designed to protect American workers from these unscrupulous employers.
JARED CULVER is a Legal Analyst for NumbersUSA
Updated: Sat, Jun 17th 2023 @ 3:30am EDT