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VOL. 126 | NO. 233 | Wednesday, November 30, 2011

US Labor Dept. Alleges Discrimination by Cargill

JEANNIE NUSS | Associated Press

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – One of the nation's largest meatpackers systematically discriminated against more than 4,000 qualified applicants who sought entry-level jobs at a turkey processing plant in Arkansas, the U.S. Labor Department said Tuesday.

Women were less likely to be hired for those jobs and Asian and Pacific Islanders were unfairly favored over applicants of other races at Cargill Meat Solutions' plant in Springdale, Ark., federal officials said in a statement.

Cargill Meat Solutions is a subsidiary of Minneapolis-based Cargill, Inc. The company blamed the problem on "documentation," saying there wasn't a satisfactory record of why it didn't hire certain candidates.

The Springdale plant drew national attention earlier this year when it had to recall 36 million pounds of ground turkey after a salmonella outbreak that sickened 107 people in 31 states. One person died from the illness. The labor complaint is not related to that recall.

Federal officials want to cancel Cargill's existing government contracts and prevent future contracts until the company stops what they call discriminatory practices.

Cargill currently holds contracts worth more than $550 million with the U.S. Department of Defense.

"This is an unfortunate case in which thousands of qualified workers were denied the opportunity to compete fairly for jobs in a tough economy," the director of the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs said in a statement.

Patricia A. Shiu added that the Labor Department is prepared to use every tool at its disposal, including canceling a company's federal contracts, to achieve equal opportunity for workers.

Cargill spokesman Mike Martin said the company is disappointed by the allegations and minorities make up 84 percent of the 1,300 people employed at the plant in Springdale, Ark.

He said it appears the accusation is based on a "statistical analysis" of the job market rather than a review of specific applicants.

"This is a situation more about documentation than it is about discrimination," Martin said. "This allegation is this is based upon statistical analysis, not upon any hiring decisions that Cargill made."

The Springdale plant shut down for eight days while equipment was cleaned after the August recall, but just weeks later salmonella showed up during routine testing and a second batch of ground turkey – 185,000 pounds – was recalled in September.

Associated Press writer Kelly P. Kissel contributed to this report.

Follow Jeannie Nuss at www.twitter.com/jeannienuss

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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