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TO: NICWJ friends and allies

FROM: Kim Bobo

RE: Poultry victory

Thanks to your and others’ hard work, we had a major victory for poultry workers this week. The Department of Labor (DOL) has finally taken a stand to recover back wages owed workers and to insist on future compliance. Perdue has agreed to a pay over $10 million in back wages, and the DOL has sued Tyson. There were short stories in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, and Arkansas News this morning (maybe more places), but I want to explain how good the DOL’s position is. By a stroke of good fortune, Board members Ron Stief and Tiffany Heath and I were meeting with Tammy McCutcheon, the new Wage and Hour Director, yesterday, right before the press conference, so we had a chance to learn a few details about the Perdue settlement, the Tyson suit and other DOL follow-up plans. Taken together, this is a terrific step forward, and we helped make it happen.


Here’s what has happened:

  • Perdue has agreed to pay over $10 million in back wages to approximately 25,000 workers (averages to $400 per worker). The settlement pays for eight minutes a day of “donning and doffing” that had not been paid. In addition, Perdue will commit resources to finding the workers owed the money. Workers have three years in which to claim the money owed them. This is one of the largest settlements the DOL has ever made.
  • Perdue agreed to bring all its plants into full compliance (paying for all donning and doffing, which is probably closer to 15 minutes per day) within a one year period. Twenty-five percent of plants will become compliant within each ninety-day period until all plants are compliant. Rough estimates are that this will add $10 to $15 million additional dollars in workers’ paychecks per year.
  • The DOL has sued Tyson (which refused a settlement) and is seeking a national injuction restraining Tyson from future violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) at all its domestic poultry processing facilities. The suit is filed on behalf of workers in Tyson’s Bloutsville, AL plant. Additional lawsuits have been filed by private attorneys on behalf of workers in other Tyson plants. The DOL is committed to winning this case and thus should be able to bring Tyson into full compliance. Eventually, there should be settlements for back wages and future compliance for Tyson workers that will result in tens of millions of dollars for poultry workers.
  • The DOL will seek additional settlements with other poultry companies, which will likely result in tens of millions of dollars more in back wages and future wages for workers.
There is no question that Elaine Chao and the DOL have “done the right thing.” Equally, there is no question that the work of the National Interfaith Committee and our religious partners, side by side with workers and the UFCW, helped make this happen.

Here’s what we did over the last few years:
  • Began our DOL “advocacy” in 1996, by publicly calling on the Department of Labor to investigate the industry, which the DOL committed to doing.
  • Developed and publicized a Code of Conduct for poultry workers.
  • Organized fact-finding delegations to poultry plants (1996-1998).
  • Distributed thousands of bulletin inserts to congregations near poultry plants informing workers about lawsuits they could file to recover back wages.
  • Created and distributed poultry worker rights manuals for Georgia and Arkansas in English and Spanish.
  • Advocated with Department of Labor after 1997 survey showing 60 percent noncompliance to create worker rights materials (which wasn’t done then).
  • Pulled together multiple press conferences highlighting abuse in the industry.
  • Supported and helped develop poultry justice alliances in Delmarva, Georgia, North Carolina and Arkansas. Built ties with religious advocates in Texas, Missouri, Alabama, and Mississippi.
  • Following the 2000 DOL survey showing 100 percent noncompliance of Wage and Hour laws, encouraged and assisted the Department of Labor in creating poultry worker rights materials (videos and accompanying manuals in English and Spanish).
  • Distributed thousands of videos and manuals by volunteers, six interns, and NICWJ staff.
  • Supported the Catholic Bishops of the South in the development of the Pastoral Statement and then distributed the Statement widely.
  • Wrote and distributed a Methodist study guide on poultry issues (in English and Spanish) to Methodist congregations in the South.
  • Sought and finally got a meeting for a delegation of 25 religious leaders with Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao in June of 2001 to discuss the DOL following through to collect back wages and force future compliance. (We delivered a letter in May, 2001 to DOL offices in DC, Cleveland, Little Rock, Atlanta and Raleigh requesting the meeting after initial requests had been ignored.)
  • Recruited over 150 religious leaders to sign a letter to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao asking her to recover back wages for poultry workers and insist that companies pay workers for all hours worked.
  • Continued mobilizing people of faith to write and call Secretary of Chao throughout the Winter and Spring of 2001-2002.
  • Filed a Freedom of Information request for information on the poultry investigations.
  • Organized a delegation that met on April 11, 2002 with Senator Kennedy’s staff to discuss ways to ensure that the DOL moved forward on seeking back wages for poultry workers.
What are the next steps? We should all:

  1. Send a thank you letter to Secretary Elaine Chao. Her address is U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20210. The main point of the letter is to thank you. You can get a sample from our website at or (From the home page, put your zip code in the “Write to Congress” section in the upper left corner. Then, click “Agencies,” then click on the “Department of Labor,” and then chose “Compose a Letter” and then select the thank you letter.
  2. Continue monitoring and working with the Department of Labor to follow-up with all poultry companies.
  3. Continue building support networks near poultry plants to assure that workers know their rights so that they can become their own advocates – individually and collectively through unions. We hope to set up workers’ centers in Arkansas and North Carolina within the next few months.
  4. Remember the importance of continued advocacy, say a prayer of thanks, and keep moving! Si se puede!

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g! Si se puede! 5/10/02
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copyright 2001 © LaborNet