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Pilgrim's Pride says no grower bias

Pilgrim's Pride says no grower bias

When Pilgrim's Pride decided to end contracts with some Florida chicken growers before filing for bankruptcy late last year, it chose based on production factors _ not race, a company official testified Tuesday at a hearing.
Pilgrim's Pride decided to cut shifts at its Live Oak, Florida, plant, which was losing $1 million a week, so that meant canceling contracts with about a fifth of its growers, said Randy Stroud, the company's senior vice president of live technical services.
Although some farmers who are Hispanic or had formed unions have alleged discrimination and are fighting the terminations, Stroud said neither their races nor their activities were considered. He said growers were ranked based on a complex system used to determine their efficiency in the past year, which is an industry standard. About two dozen were cut.
Pilgrim's Pride, the nation's largest chicken producer, didn't offer to pay the growers to stop producing as it did when it closed its Siler City, North Carolina, plant last spring _ a move that cost the company $3.9 million, Stroud said.
"In Live Oak, at that time we were in bankruptcy, and that (payment offer) really wasn't an option," Stroud testified at the hearing before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis M. Lynn.
CEO Don Jackson also testified that the process of choosing the 26 growers was fair and terminating the contracts necessary and the best option. He said slowing or stopping operations at Pilgrim's Pride plants is expected to save the company $250 million this year.
When questioned by Deborah Deitsch-Perez, an attorney representing the growers, Stroud said he did not know of any investigation into why many growers whose contracts were canceled had the same field representative. But Stroud said that person had no input into the decision.
After Pilgrim's Pride presented its case, C. Robert Taylor, an agricultural economics professor at Auburn University, testified that growers in general feel fear and intimidation and expect retaliation if they are identified as troublemakers, such as not going along with the company.
Some growers are expected to testify when the hearing resumes Friday.
Before the five-hour hearing, the judge approved the company's employment agreement with Jerry D. Wilson as executive vice president of sales and marketing. He will earn $500,000 a year and get an additional $500,000 signing bonus.
The court-appointed trustee, William T. Neary, had objected to the agreement based on the signing bonus, saying it was not explained or justified.


Updated : 2021-04-12 12:52 GMT+08:00