- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2006

A $23 million lawsuit by 18 former employees at Swift & Co., which was targeted last week in raids by the government over its hiring of illegal aliens, says the meat-processing company 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 longstanding scheme” by the company to “depress and artificially lower the wages of its workers” by knowingly hiring illegal aliens.

“By lessening its labor costs and increasing its profits, Swift has severely damaged the potential earnings and livelihood of these hardworking men and women,” said lawyer Angel Reyes 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 back wages they would have received if they had remained employed, was filed late Friday in U.S. District Court in Dallas. It accuses Swift under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) of engaging in a racketeering conspiracy 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 wage is approximately $12 to $13 an hour. Illegal immigration has fueled this depression in wages.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who swept through the six meat-processing plants last week arrested 1,282 illegal aliens as part of an ongoing investigation into a massive identity-theft 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 aliens from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru, Laos, Sudan and Ethiopia.

Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers, who heads ICE, said the use of fraudulent documents by illegal aliens seeking employment has been a “significant problem” that in recent years had evolved into a “disturbing new trend.”

Mrs. Myers said ICE investigators discovered in February that Swift workers had assumed the identities of others to circumvent employment-eligibility screening and uncovered evidence that hundreds of illegal aliens used stolen Social Security cards and other identity documents to gain employment. She said the illegals 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, argued that the raids would cause “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 last Tuesday forced Swift to suspend operations, but the company announced Wednesday 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. “The company anticipates no adverse long-term impacts to its operations and remains confident in its ability to serve customers. No civil or criminal charges have been filed against Swift & Company.”

With more than $9 billion in annual sales, Swift is the world’s second-largest processor of fresh beef and pork.

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