JACKSON — Sanderson Farms Inc. has sued a union, claiming its union representatives filed meritless complaints with federal agencies and made slanderous statements to news organizations.
The Mississippi-based poultry producer filed the lawsuit Aug. 28 in Jones County Circuit Court against the Laborers International Union of North America Local 693 and the Southeast Laborers’ District Council. Frank McLaurin and Sherri Jones, described as union representatives for workers at Sanderson Farms’ processing plants in Collins and Hazlehurst, also are named as defendants in the complaint.
The union filed documents Wednesday to have the case moved to federal court in Mississippi.
An attorney for the union didn’t immediately respond to a message. A call to the union’s local office in Collins wasn’t immediately returned.
Sanderson Farms, based in Laurel, said McLaurin and Jones filed at least 11 meritless complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture between January and March 2011. The lawsuit said none of the complaints were found to have merit, but they disrupted production and created substantial investigative and legal costs for the company.
The lawsuit also accuses Jones of making “defamatory and slanderous” statements about Sanderson Farms for broadcast and print publications. The company says Jones made false statements about “racially insensitive” and unsafe working conditions.
McLaurin and Jones made “unverified claims” that a supervisor referred to employees as slaves and likened a processing plant to a “modern-day plantation,” the lawsuit says.
Jones told reporters during a news conference in August that Sanderson Farms “has more pride in their product than they do their people.” Jones and others also said the plant in Hazlehurst was a harsh working environment with no adequate air conditioning and too few water and bathroom breaks.
“As a familiar presence at Sanderson’s facilities, Jones knew these statements were false,” the company argues in the lawsuit.
Sanderson Farms is the nation’s fourth-largest chicken processor with operations in Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas.