Attorney Elizabeth A. Citrin Represents Poultry Farmers in Their Fight Against Corporations

About 60% of the poultry industry is controlled by just four corporations: Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms. Chicken farmers – as well as cattle and hog farmers - must answer to one of these major companies. Another 37% of chicken farmers also work under contracts from other major producers, including Koch Foods.

While having 97% of the poultry industry under corporate control is not necessarily a bad thing, it is when those corporations are being accused of violating contracts, gaming “tournament system” wages, and mislabeling farmers as independent contractors. Despite the size and strength of the corporate controllers in the poultry and farming industries, some brave farmers are risking their farms, finances, and reputations by speaking up and filing lawsuits. Attorney Elizabeth Citrin of Elizabeth A. Citrin, P.C. in Daphne, Alabama is proud to be one of a handful of attorneys who are siding with and representing these farmers.

At this time, Attorney Citrin is representing a number of farmers in multiple states who work in the poultry industry including Alabama, Minnesota, Georgia, and North Carolina. It is her hope to get these farmers and their families the compensation they deserve after corporate mistreatment, of course. But she also aims to pave the way for future lawsuits from other farmers who speak up. Eventually, with enough noise and successful lawsuits, the industry could be changed with litigation that starts working more for the farmers and less for the major corporations that keep them under one-sided contracts.

“Big Poultry” is accused of several violations and mistreatments, such as:

  • Mislabeled workers: Under contracts from corporate controllers, farmers are listed as independent contractors. However, corporations are trying to tell them exactly how to run their farms, right down to what equipment they need to buy and install and by requiring expensive equipment upgrades, labeling them as necessary even when they are not. If they don’t comply by buying expensive new equipment – often funded through a pricey new loan – then they risk losing their contract entirely, making it virtually impossible to sell poultry in their market.
  • Severe power imbalance: Despite being independent contractors on paper, farmers own very little of their farms and operations. They can claim their barns and laborers, but they are also on the hook for utility costs, waste disposal, and debt. On the other hand, agricultural corporations own related patents, the trucks used to transport meat and poultry, the brand name, slaughterhouse facilities, the feed and medicine given to the livestock, and the livestock itself, controlling the supply and health of the chicks, and the supply, type and weight of the grains necessary to feed the chicks.
  • Tournament system wages: Poultry farmers under corporate contracts are paid through a “tournament system.” In so many words, the pay given to a poultry farmer is based on their performance for a quarter or year. Underperforming farmers get paid less than the base amount, and high performers get more. The problem is this system is nearly guaranteed to put underperformers in debt as they make sometimes less than minimum wage for their work. On top of that issue, farmers speaking up say corporations will intentionally game the system against those that they are snubbing. For example, controllers may provide sick and dying chickens to a farmer who has complained about unfair wages and practices, which sets them up for an underperforming season. The tournament system pits the farmers against each other, but they are competing at different advantages and disadvantages in an unfair race. The only winner is the corporation – the food integrator who profits no matter what.

Bringing the Fight to Big Poultry’s Door

Back in 2015, the popular HBO program “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” put a spotlight on the unfair business practices carried out by many agricultural and livestock corporations. The episode’s airing was like a spark over tinder, encouraging more and more farmers to speak up, file lawsuits, and learn more about their rights. The Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 is supposed to shelter chicken farms and others from corporation mistreatment, yet it was mostly forgotten across the decades, and there is an almost impossible standard on what farmers must prove in order to show violations under the Act. Now, with more farmers knowing their rights, it and other litigation are being dragged back to Congress, where the legal fight is getting rocky.

This is where attorneys like Elizabeth A. Citrin step in and make a difference. Representing farmers, she is ready to fight Big Poultry. If you need her help as a farmer in Alabama who has been mistreated and financially abused by a corporation that holds your work contract, please call (251) 202-3374 and get in contact with our firm. Together, we can work towards a better tomorrow that thanks you for the hard work you and your family do as an American farmer, who deserves to be treated with dignity, fairness, honor, and respect.

(You can learn more about the Big Poultry controversy by clicking here and viewing a full article from Farm Aid.)