Suit Focuses on Tyson Relationship with Advocacy Group

Michelle Bradford, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock), November 5, 2007

The plaintiffs in a lawsuit accusing Tyson Foods Inc. of hiring illegal aliens to work at poultry plants are focusing on the meat producer’s relationship with the League of Latin American Citizens.

The class-action suit in U. S. District Court in Eastern Tennessee claims Springdale-based Tyson Foods knowingly hired illegal aliens to work for wages below what American workers would take. It was filed in April 2002 on behalf of former Tyson workers in several states, not including Arkansas.

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The plaintiffs in Trollinger v. Tyson are chicken plant workers who said they were harmed by a scheme by Tyson’s top management to depress wages, court documents state.

“We believe Tyson has used its relationship with LULAC to help carry out a ‘willful blindness’ policy of hiring illegal workers,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Howard W. Foster of Chicago. “Tyson is very close with LULAC, especially in Springdale, and we’re alleging that the groups have agreed not to investigate workers who are suspected illegal aliens.”

Last week, the former director of the Arkansas chapter of the League of Latin American Citizens filed a motion to avoid giving a deposition in the case. In October, LULAC’s Housing Commission fought subpoenas seeking evidence in the case.

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the company continues to deny claims in the suit and will file a motion for summary judgment mid-month.

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An amended complaint filed in 2005 added the allegation that Tyson used its relationship with LULAC to “facilitate the hiring of illegal aliens.”

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Charles Cervantes, director of the Arkansas chapter of LULAC, said the league’s partnership with Tyson is geared at Hispanic advocacy efforts, such as curbing poverty and improving education.

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Tyson is one of many corporations across the country, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., with which LULAC has “corporate sponsorships,” he said.

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Cervantes said LULAC opposes local police enforcing federal immigration law because it creates opportunities for racial profiling and can violate the rights of people who can’t immediately produce identification when asked by police.

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