Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A case to watch: Former Swift employees sue meatpacker for allegedly hiring illegal workers to keep wages low

If there was ever a case to watch this is the one. Recently, ICE authorities raided a Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in Cactus Texas, just north of Amarillo. This is one of six facilities raided in a multi-state sweep that led to the arrests of nearly 1,300 employees, temporarily halting Swift's operations. The raids were part of an investigation into the theft of Social Security numbers by illegal aliens who worked at Swift plants in Cactus, Grand Island; Nebraska; Greeley, Colorado; Hyrum, Utah; Marshalltown, Iowa; and Worthington, Minnesota.

Now, 13 former employees of the plant are suing Swift for 13 million dollars. The suit alleges that the employer intentionally and systematically hired illegal workers in an attempt to keep wages low, thus impacting the income-making ability of legal workers. The racketeering-based suit was filed Friday against Swift and HM Capital Partners in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

This is an important case says Bill Dolphin, Vice President of Asset Control. “It’s a unique approach to addressing the issue of illegal workers. The case could open the door for a myriad of similar suits by applicants and former employees who allege they were displaced by employees demanding lesser wages”, said Dolphin.

“This kind of case can make a litigator’s mind run wild”, says Mike Hake of Asset Control and a former Human Resource Director. “While it may take years for a single case like this to lumber through the courts, the potential for it to leave hundreds of similarly themed cases in its wake is extraordinary”.

“It’s a simple and an appealing plaintiff argument”, says Bill Dolphin. For years the federal government has ignored the issue of illegal workers and their potential impact on legal workers. Now, plaintiffs have moved the fight to the civil courts where, quite honestly, there may be more opportunity for punitive action than in the criminal courts. I see this not only applying to displaced former employees, but to applicants who may have been rejected too.

Under RICO (Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) private persons and entities may initiate civil suits to obtain injunctions against enterprises that conspire to or actually violate federal alien smuggling, harboring, or document fraud statutes. The law allows for the pursuit of treble damages. Now add the possibility of an individual or class action tort claim for discrimination and you have what amounts to a blank canvas!

The employment of illegal workers is a very emotional issue that has found its place in the national spotlight. This case and its offspring will appeal to persons and citizen action groups who see themselves as soldiers in the war on illegal immigration. For this reason, Asset Control advises all employers to place this case on their radar screens. We guarantee many applicants and employees already have!