Governor Bob McDonnell, Virginia U.S. Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (VA-06) sent a joint letter on May 19th to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder regarding the United States Department of Justice's antitrust lawsuit challenging George's Inc.'s acquisition of Tyson Foods Inc.'s poultry processing facilities in Harrisonburg.
George's purchase of the Tyson's plant on March 18, 2011, rescued it from likely closure by Tyson's and preserves nearly 500 jobs and 121 grower contracts with Shenandoah Valley farmers.
USDOJ is challenging the sale based on a reduction in competition among poultry companies, referred to as integrators, in the Rockingham/Harrisonburg area, despite the fact that Tyson's departure would have accomplished the same reduction.
In the letter, all four signatories express the importance of agriculture and the poultry industry, in particular, as the largest employer in the region. They urge Attorney General Holder and his agency to consider the impact of this lawsuit on the local workforce and to "seek a resolution that will ensure that this important facility in Harrisonburg can continue contributing jobs and revenue to the local economy."
Speaking about the letter and USDOJ's lawsuit, Governor McDonnell said, "As Governor, I am asking Attorney General Holder to withdraw this suit immediately and to let George's get about the business of maintaining the jobs of hundreds of hardworking Virginians. I look forward to George's carrying out the proposed expansions to their newest facility in Virginia and I applaud their goal of extending growers' contracts and increasing profitability in coming years."
"A legal victory that leads to a shuttered plant would be no victory for Virginia workers," said Senator Webb. "Every effort should be made to avoid a closure of the plant in Harrisonburg to preserve the over 500 jobs as well as the livelihoods of the 121 farmers who have contracts to sell birds for processing there."
"This legal action is not helpful at a time when we are focused on jobs and economic recovery," Senator Warner said. "Our joint letter demonstrates a bipartisan effort to try to save more than 500 jobs in the Shenandoah Valley and preserve growers' contracts that help to sustain the region's economy."
"The poultry industry is of utmost importance to the economy of the Shenandoah Valley," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte. "If this facility is forced to close it will affect the entire community as hundreds of workers lose their jobs and area farms lose their processing facility. If the Department of Justice chooses to move forward in this case it is critical that these jobs and the local economy are protected."
Agriculture is Virginia's largest industry. The industry has an economic impact of $55 billion annually and provides more than 357,000 jobs across the Commonwealth. The largest subsector of the state's agricultural economy is the poultry industry, consisting primarily of poultry integrators and the farmers who make their livelihoods as contract growers for companies like Tyson Foods, George's, the Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative and others in the Valley, Southside and on the Eastern Shore. In 2010, farm sales of Virginia chickens and turkeys accounted for more than $760 million.