News last week that Mountaire had a purchase agreement to buy most assets of local competitor Allen Family Foods Inc. of Seaford, Del., coincided with key developments in separate employee lawsuits filed against Mountaire in federal court and a state court in North Carolina.
The outcome of the cases could cost Mountaire millions of dollars annually in additional compensation to workers at poultry processing plants for time spent immediately before and after their shift donning and doffing protective gear. Workers could stand to earn at least $12 more a week in pay.
In the purchase agreement, Mountaire would buy Allen hatcheries in Seaford and Dagsboro, the Seaford administrative office, a Seaford feed mill, processing plants in Harbeson and Cordova and a rendering plant called JCR Enterprises in Linkwood. There have been no comments about the Allen employees, totaling more than 2,400 people in Delaware, Maryland and North Carolina.
On June 8 in Raleigh, a federal court held that certification and notice were appropriate under both federal and state wage and hour laws, meaning that current and former chicken processing workers have two years to join a class-action lawsuit if they believe the poultry producer violated federal and state labor law by not compensating them for time spent donning and doffing, cleaning and sanitizing safety and sanitary equipment and gear.
The lawsuit, Romero and others vs. Mountaire Farms Inc. was initially filed in October 2009 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, alleging that the company deprived them of wages for required daily time spent onsite preparing to start and to quit work, Hernandez said.