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The United States tries a new tactic to protect workers’ wages: antitrust law

In 2007, the Justice Department sued the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association for setting the rates hospitals paid nursing agencies for their temporary nurses, capping their salaries. In settling the case, the association agreed to abandon the practice.

The pace picked up after a 2010 Justice Department lawsuit targeting non-poaching agreements involving Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Pixar and later Lucasfilm. The companies settled the case without admitting guilt or paying fines, but Adobe, Apple, Google and Intel paid $415 million to settle a subsequent class action lawsuit.

Since then, lawsuits have been filed across the industrial landscape. Pixar, Disney and Lucasfilm have paid $100 million to settle an antitrust challenge to their agreements not to hire each other’s animation engineers. In 2019, 15 State Department-designated “cultural exchange” sponsors paid $65.5 million to settle a lawsuit claiming, among other things, that they had colluded to lower the salaries of dozens of thousands of au pairs with J-1 visas. Since 2019, Duke University and the University of North Carolina have paid nearly $75 million to settle two antitrust cases over agreements not to hire each other’s faculty members.

This month, Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission arguing that Planned Companies, one of the largest building services contractors in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, illegally prohibiting its customers from hiring its janitors, janitors, or security guards either directly or through another company—locking in its workers.

In perhaps the most significant case of all, in 2019 a class action lawsuit was filed against the US chicken industry, covering around 20 producers responsible for around 90% of the poultry market. The suit accuses them of trading detailed wage information to set wages for about a quarter of a million employees, including hourly workers deboning chickens, refrigeration technicians and factory supervisors. paid animal feed.

Four of the chicken processors settled down, agreeing to pay tens of millions of dollars. In February, Webber, Meng, Sahl & Company, one of two companies that collected wage data for poultry businesses, also moved in, providing a pretty clear window into the industry’s attempts to suppress the wages.

In a statement to the court, part of the settlement agreement, the law firm’s chairman, Jonathan Meng, said the chicken companies used the firm “as an unwitting tool to cover up their wrongdoing.” He gave details of how poultry executives would share detailed salary information. “They wanted to know by how much and when their competitors were planning to increase salaries and salary ranges,” he said, because it would allow them “to limit and reduce their salary increases and salary ranges”.


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