Tuesday, October 28, 2008, 1:50 PM

Making Law and Sausage

Smithfield Foods and its subsidiary Smithfield Packing are no strangers to legal wrangles. Their long-running battle with the United Food and Commercial Workers was resolved, for the time being, by the settlement of Smithfield's racketeering suit against the UFCW: In exchange for an agreement to hold an election among the 4500 hourly employees of Smithfield's Tar Heel, NC, hog processing facility despite the union's assertions that no fair election was possible, the UFCW has dropped its "corporate campaign" against Smithfield. Specifics of the accord and the date and conditions of the election have not been disclosed.

However, that solution was tarnished by the filing of yet two more FLSA collective actions against Smithfield in eastern North Carolina. Mitchell v. Smithfield Packing targets the company's Kinston, NC processing plant, while Whitley v. Smithfield Packing focuses on a distribution facility in Clayton, NC, just east of Raleigh. The plaintiffs in both cases, represented by the same Raleigh law firm, assert they and their co-workers are not paid for time spent putting on and taking off uniforms and protective gear, as well as "pre-donning and post-doffing walking time."

Other FLSA litigation remains pending in the same court: Lewis v. Smithfield Foods, a challenge to pay practices in the company's enormous Tar Heel operation, is part of the UFCW assault on the company; 67 consents were filed today by class members who have agreed to be bound by the outcome of that case. McNeil v. Smithfield Foods, another Tar Heel-based case, was filed on February 22 of this year and has been consolidated with Lewis. Parker v. Smithfield Foods, which was commenced in October 2007, arose in a hog processing plant in Clinton, NC and remains pending following conditional certification of a class in August. At least some of the same attorneys represent the plaintiffs in all three cases. Smithfield was dismissed out of yet another case, Martinez-Hernandez v. Butterball, LLC, which deals with turkey production and processing in Wayne and Duplin Counties; trial is set for April, 2009. All of these suits challenge pay practices within a 60-mile circle south and east of Raleigh.

It's easy to see that settling cases doesn't always end problems; once you become a target defendant, the hits just keep coming.


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