Ex-worker’s suit: Indiana plant’s illegal hiring depressed wages

A former employee of an Indiana pork processing plant is suing two company officials, saying they were involved in knowingly hiring hundreds of people who weren't in the country legally in order to keep wages low for all of the plant's workers.

In his lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Indiana, Andrew O'Shea contends that the Indiana Packers Corp.'s human resources staff doesn't conduct employment checks when hiring applicants for low-paying jobs, even when there is evidence that applicants are using fake Social Security numbers or identification cards.

"Many workers openly admit they are illegal, or were working under false identities, and/or had previously worked at IPC under a different name," states the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status.

O'Shea's Chicago-based lawyer, Howard Foster, said the scheme also resulted in depressed wages for all of the plant's hourly production workers and that it runs afoul of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO Act, which is typically used to prosecute people suspected of engaging in organized crime. He said when filing a lawsuit under RICO, the individuals who commit the alleged racketeering activity can be sued, not the enterprise for which they work. However, he said the lawsuit will likely be amended later to add executives higher up in the company as defendants.

"A scheme of this nature cannot occur without the cooperation of many, many people," Foster said.

The current defendants are the company's human resources director, James Harding, and an HR staffer, Marisol Martinez.

In a written statement, the company asserted O'Shea was employed "for two brief stints," and had nothing to do with the company's hiring practices. The company also noted its hiring practices were evaluated during a Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security audit in 2014.

"The outcome — in which the government thanked Indiana Packers Corp. for its cooperation and concluded 'there is no basis for further investigation' obviously speaks for itself," said Indiana Packers vice president Jeff Feirick.

According to the lawsuit, O'Shea took a job in 2013 as a production worker at Indiana Packers, making about $10.50 an hour. He alleges that he overheard a supervisor say that if he needed more workers, Martinez "will get me some more illegals."

O'Shea was fired in 2014 for insubordination but was hired back and later quit, Foster said.

Indiana Packers, located in Delphi, is the largest employer in rural Carroll County, about 70 miles northwest of Indianapolis. It employs more than 2,000 full-time workers and sells pork products in the U.S., Mexico and Japan, according to a news release.

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