A Union County company that rounds up live chickens for poultry processors has paid nearly $600,000 in back wages and an equal amount in damages to 838 workers, the U.S. Department of Labor said Tuesday.
Unicon Inc. of Marshville paid the back wages to its chicken catchers and van drivers as part of a settlement agreement with the Department of Labor.
Investigators with the department’s Wage and Hour Division found violations of the Fair Labor Standard Act’s overtime and record-keeping provisions at the company’s work sites throughout the Northeast and Southeast.
The violations resulted from the company’s failure to pay for all the hours employees had worked, according to the Labor Department. Unicon made automatic deductions from payroll for lunch and other breaks that crew leaders and catch crew members did not actually take, the department said.
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The firm also failed to pay workers for time they spent on work activities before they started catching chickens on their shifts, and failed to pay crew leaders for time spent picking up catch crew members and cleaning company vans, according to the Labor Department.
The department’s Wage and Hour Division also cited Unicon for failing to maintain time and payroll records.
“This agreement goes a long way to ensure that Unicon’s workers are made whole by providing the wages they earned,” Mark Watson, administrator of the division’s Northeast region, said in a statement. “It also levels the playing field for other employers in this industry.”
In a statement, Unicon called the violations inadvertent.
“Unicon, Inc. is fully committed to complying with state and federal laws concerning its workers,” the company’s statement said. “The compromise settlement with the US Department of Labor earlier this year was to correct inadvertent violations that first came to light in 2014. Proactive changes to the Company’s payroll policies were immediately initiated by the Company starting in 2014 and the Company fully complies in every respect with all wage and hour laws.
“The Department of Labor’s investigation was concluded in 2015 and the recent settlement puts to rest any back wage claims asserted by the US Department of Labor, and was entered into as a compromise to avoid the expense and distraction of litigation,” according to the statement. “The Company continues to be in full compliance with all wage and hour laws.”