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More than 300 Chattanoogans join lawsuit against Pilgrim's Pride

More than 300 Chattanoogans join lawsuit against Pilgrim's Pride
Sat. September 20, 2008; Posted: 12:04 PM

Sep 20, 2008 (Chattanooga Times/Free Press - McClatchy-Tribune News Service via COMTEX) -- CHX | Quote | Chart | News | PowerRating -- Sep. 20--Rose Mary Porter must take off, put on and clean a smock, rubber gloves, cloth gloves, ear plugs, plastic sleeves and a hair net every time she goes to work at the Chattanooga Pilgrim's Pride chicken processing plant, goes out for lunch or breaks and before she goes home.
All of it must be done during time she says she doesn't get paid for, according to court documents filed in 2007.

Mrs. Porter, who has worked almost six years at the company, is one of about 10,000 Pilgrim's Pride employees or former employees -- including 300 in Chattanooga -- suing the Pittsburg, Texas-based Pilgrim's Pride Corp. alleging pay was denied for overtime work.

The company is one of the nation's largest chicken-processing companies, and workers from 21 sites in 10 states, including Tennessee and Georgia, are participating in the collective action seeking to collect back wages. A collective action wage suit is similar to a class-action civil suit.

The lawsuit was filed in 2007 at the Pilgrim's Pride Texas plant, followed by a companywide case filed by workers at the Arkansas plant, said Jenny Yang, an attorney with the Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll law firm, lead council representing the plaintiffs.

In August 2007, the Department of Labor also filed a lawsuit against Pilgrim's Pride Corp. in Dallas to recover about $3 million in wages for more than 500 former and current workers engaged in poultry processing work, according to a news release.

"The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employees to be paid minimum wage for all hours worked and time and one-half their regular rates of pay for hours worked in excess of 40 per week. Employers also must maintain accurate time and payroll records," the release states.

"As a matter of company policy, we don't comment on pending or threatened litigation," said Ray Atkinson, director of corporate communications at Pilgrim's Pride, in an e-mail. "Pilgrim's Pride believes that we did properly pay our employees, and we intend to show that in the lawsuit."

Lubia del Cid, one of the Pilgrim's Pride workers arrested in April for being in the country illegally, joined the lawsuit on Wednesday, the last day to opt-in.

"I think it's a good idea to join the lawsuit because it's money we deserve, not money we are taking from the company," she said.

Ms. Yang said it is important that workers feel they can come forward "to vindicate their rights in this process."

"What has been difficult for these workers, both because of the raids and that there's been a lot of press about layoffs at Pilgrim's Pride, a lot of workers are afraid of retaliation for coming forward, afraid of losing their jobs," she said. "We are trying to make sure people are aware federal laws protect them against retaliation for participating in the case."

Ms. Yang said she hopes the case can be resolved within two years.

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