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Perdue to pay millions in back wages

Published: Friday, August 09, 2002
Page: P11A
Byline: The Associated Press

WILMINGTON, Del. - Perdue Farms Inc. has agreed to pay millions of dollars in back wages to some 60,000 chicken plant workers in West Virginia and nine other states for time spent putting on and removing required protective gear.

The settlement stems from a class-action lawsuit filed in 1999 by workers denied pay for the time spent putting on, sanitizing and taking off protective clothing before and after work.

The settlement covers people who worked for Salisbury, Md.-based Perdue from 1993 to December 1999, said attorney Christine E. Webber, who represented some workers.

Webber said employees were expected to clock in, but were not paid until "line time," when the actual processing of poultry began.

A federal judge in Wilmington granted preliminary approval of the settlement Wednesday. Final approval is subject to an Oct. 17 hearing.

The plaintiffs' lawyers are seeking about $3 million of the settlement for fees and expenses, leaving about $7 million for the workers.

"We're glad that workers are getting what they deserve," said Jill Cashen, a spokeswoman for United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

The settlement includes workers and former employees at 18 plants in Delaware, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

The settlement is in addition to $10 million in payments provided for 25,000 workers in a May consent decree between Perdue and the Department of Labor.

That agreement covered employees working at Perdue from May 2000 to May 2002.

Perdue Farms chairman Jim Perdue said in a prepared statement that Wednesday's settlement would put the "contentious issue" to rest.

"It is the right thing to do for our associates and for the company," he said.

Perdue employs more than 2,600 in Delaware. Sussex County is the top chicken-producing county in the United States.

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