Consent decree requires George’s to fork out $5M

FILE -- George's headquarters in Springdale (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/AMELIA PHILLIPS)
FILE -- George's headquarters in Springdale (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/AMELIA PHILLIPS)

A Department of Justice filing on Wednesday with poultry producer George's would resolve claims that George's conspired with other poultry processors for years to suppress workers' wages.

The Justice Department's proposed amended complaint and consent decree in Maryland with George's Inc. and George's Foods LLC would resolve claims that the companies conspired with other poultry processors to keep workers' wages low by sharing compensation information.

"George's provided significant and voluntary cooperation to the Justice Department's investigation," the department said.

The proposed settlement would also require George's to pay $5.8 million in restitution to poultry processing workers harmed by the conspiracy.

The department previously reached similar agreements with Cargill, Sanderson Farms, Wayne Farms and a data consultant.

George's is based in Springdale and has eight plants throughout Arkansas, Missouri and Virginia. It employs more than 6,000 workers.

Cargill bought Sanderson Farms last year and merged it with Wayne Farms. The combined subsidiary is called Wayne Sanderson Farms.

"Today's action is another important milestone in the Justice Department's efforts to hold poultry processors accountable for antitrust violations that harm workers," said Jonathan Kanter, attorney general of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division.

"The antitrust laws protect American workers from information exchanges, like these, that damage competition and the competitive process," Kanter said.

The proposed decree will be published in the Federal Register for a 60-day comment period. After that, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland may enter a final judgment if it finds the decree is in the public interest.

If approved by the court, the proposal would require George's to stop sharing competitively sensitive information about its processing plant workers' compensation.

The proposed settlement would also have the court appoint a monitor to ensure George's compliance with the terms of the decree over the next seven years, and prohibit Georges's from retaliating against any employee or third party for disclosing information to the monitor or to government authorities.

All of these terms would expire after seven years.

The Justice Department said the proposal is "part of a broader investigation into anti-competitive labor market abuses in the poultry processing industry."

In July, five chicken industry executives were acquitted in federal court of conspiring to fix prices from 2012 to 2019.

It was the last of three trials brought by the Justice Department after two mistrials. After the second trial, prosecutors dropped charges against former executives of George's and Tyson Foods Inc., among others.