Indiana Packers employees face racketeering lawsuit

by Erica Shaffer
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DELPHI, Ind. – A former employee with Indiana Packers Corp. filed a federal lawsuit alleging two employees in the company’s human resources department knowingly hired undocumented workers and effectively depressed wages for other IPC employees who had few alternatives for employment.

Andrew O’Shea is seeking class-action status and a jury trial for the lawsuit which was filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. Marisol Martinez and James Harding were named in the lawsuit which alleges they engaged in activities outlawed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

In a statement, the company defended its hiring practices. Indiana Packers said O’Shea was only employed “for two brief stints and he had nothing to do with the company’s hiring practices.” The company added that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the US Dept. of Homeland Security audited the company’s hiring practices.

“As part of that audit, officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement inspected company I-9 forms as well as supporting documentation,” Jeff Feirick, vice president of Corporate Planning, said in the statement. “The outcome — in which the government thanked Indiana Packers Corporation for its cooperation and concluded ‘there is no basis for further investigation’ obviously speaks for itself.”

In the statement e-mailed to MEAT+POULTRY, the company included a letter documenting the compliance review and inspection of dated Oct. 22, 2014 and signed by Gary Woolf, resident agent in charge.

However, O’Shea claims in the lawsuit that undocumented workers are hired by “repeated false attestations that the illegal workers are authorized to be employed in the US” on federal I-9 Forms which all employers must complete to comply with the Immigration Reform and Control Act.

The lawsuit alleges that Martinez used her position as an employee in IPC’s human resources department to hire “hundreds (and perhaps thousands)” of undocumented workers over a period of four years. The lawsuit also accuses James Harding, the HR director, of approving Martinez’s hiring practices. The two were carrying out a scheme to hire undocumented workers to depress wages at the plant.

“Because of IPC’s size in the predominantly rural area where it is located and the difficulty hourly workers at IPC face finding equivalent employment elsewhere, IPC has market power to lower wages for unskilled workers, like Mr. O’Shea, below the wage it would otherwise be obliged to pay if it were not hiring illegal immigrants...” the complaint states.

The lawsuit states that IPC is one of the largest employers of low-skilled workers lacking a high school diploma in Northern Indiana. Other than those individuals, the complaint states, “IPC also hires many illegal immigrants who are not authorized for employment. Not only are they welcome to work at IPC, but references from prior employers are not checked, literacy is not required, and Martinez (or one of her colleagues in the HR department) tips them off when there are rumors that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents might be in the area.”

O’Shea is asking to be appointed as representative of the class of hourly paid production workers, for financial damages, attorney’s fees and costs and an injunction to prevent Martinez and Harding from “committing any further racketeering activity.”

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