CHICAGO (CN) — Chicken catchers sued giant a meat-processor Tuesday in a federal class action, claiming they’re entitled to overtime, not just piece-rate for every 1,000 birds they catch in cage-free farms.
Jimmy R. Nicks and James Earl Patrick sued Koch Meat Co., dba Koch Foods, an Illinois-based company unaffiliated with the billionaire Koch brothers or Koch Industries.
Koch Foods, owned by Joseph Grendys, started as a one-room chicken processing outfit in 1973. Today it’s ranked No. 163 on Forbes list of most valuable private companies, with annual revenue of $3 billion.
Koch chickens are raised cage-free and fed chicken feed without added hormones.
When the chickens reach marketable size, chicken catchers put them in cages to be taken to a slaughterhouse.
Nicks says three chicken-catching crews work in shifts around the clock at each Koch farm.
They are paid on a piece-rate basis for every 1,000 chickens caught. In an average shift, one crew will catch between 36,000 and 42,000 chickens.
Koch uses co-defendant JET Poultry Serves to provide chicken catchers, but Nicks says: “Koch controls every significant aspect of the chicken catching operation,” from what farm the catchers are sent to, to how many chickens they catch.
He says chicken catchers regularly are required to work more than 40 hours a week, but are not paid overtime. Nor are they compensated for travel time to or between farms, and they must wait without pay whenever Koch’s equipment needs to be unloaded or repaired.
“Defendants do not maintain accurate records of the actual hours that plaintiffs and collective members worked each workday and the total hours worked each workweek as required by the FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act],” the complaint states.
Koch should know it must keep track of this information, because the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in Holly Farms Corp. v. NLRB that chicken catchers are not exempt from overtime compensation, the complaint states.
Nicks seeks class certification, unpaid wages and unpaid overtime compensation, plus interest.
He is represented by Shanon Carson with Berger & Montague in Philadelphia.
Koch Foods did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Koch Foods of Mississippi also is a defendant.
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