Company Hired 24 Minors to Clean Slaughterhouses, Labor Department Says


A Tennessee-based company employed at least two dozen children as young as 13 to work overnight shifts cleaning dangerous equipment in slaughterhouses, including a 14-year-old whose arm was mangled in a piece of machinery, the Labor Department said on Wednesday.

The department filed a request on Wednesday for a temporary restraining order and injunction in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa against the company, Fayette Janitorial Service LLC. It provides cleaning services at slaughterhouses in several states, including Iowa and Virginia, where the department said an investigation had found that the company had hired children to clean plants.

The Labor Department opened its investigation after an article in The New York Times Magazine reported that Fayette had hired migrant children to work the overnight cleaning shift at a Perdue Farms plant on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

A spokeswoman for Fayette said in a statement that the company had cooperated with the investigation, and added that there was a “zero-tolerance policy for minor labor.”

The statement continued, “Fayette has made significant procedural improvements and enhancements over the past two years to bolster our hiring protocols, including: a biometric technology to assist in employee processes, the hiring of a new CEO, and adding an additional third-party legal representation to aid in the vetting of employees.”

Meat processing is among the nation’s most dangerous industries, and minors are barred under federal law from working in slaughterhouses because of the high risk of injury. But that has not stopped thousands of destitute migrant children from coming to the United States from Mexico and Central America to work dangerous jobs, including in meatpacking plants.

The Labor Department found that Fayette had hired at least 24 children between the ages of 13 and 17 to work the overnight shift cleaning dangerous power-driven equipment at a Perdue plant in Accomack County, Va., and at a plant operated by Seaboard Triumph Foods in Sioux City, Iowa. Fifteen children were working at the Virginia plant, and at least nine children were found to be working at the Iowa plant, the department said in its complaint requesting the injunction and restraining order.

Their duties included cleaning “kill floor equipment,” such as head splitters, jaw pullers, meat band saws and neck clippers, the Labor Department said.

The Times Magazine article focused on one child, Marcos Cux, who was hired by Fayette at age 13 after he arrived in Virginia from a village in Guatemala. Marcos was sanitizing a deboning area in the Perdue plant in Accomack County in February 2022 when he thought he saw a torn piece of a rubber glove within a conveyor belt and reached to grab it. The machine suddenly started moving and tore his forearm open to the bone. He was 14 at the time and in the eighth grade.

According to the Labor Department complaint, “someone at the Perdue facility’s sanitation office” called 9-1-1 to report the injury. When a dispatcher asked the worker’s age, the caller was silent, then responded with “Um” before the line went dead.

When the call reconnected 30 seconds later, the dispatcher again asked the age of the injured employee and was told he was 19, according to the complaint.

Marcos missed a month of school and needed three surgeries, including skin grafts from his thighs to his arm, and six months of physical therapy. Fayette covered his medical bills.

A Perdue spokeswoman said that the company terminated its contract with Fayette before the Labor Department filed its complaint.

“Underage labor has no place in our business or our industry,” the spokeswoman, Andrea Staub, said in a statement. “Perdue has strong safeguards in place to ensure that all associates are legally eligible to work in our facilities — and we expect the same of our vendors.”

Labor Department investigators received reports that some Fayette workers carried “pink and purply sparkly backpacks,” and that the younger ones “noticeably hid their faces” while older employees entering the plant did not.

“Some of these children were too young to be lawfully employed at all,” the Labor Department said in the complaint.

The Labor Department confirmed the investigation of Fayette in September, along with investigations of Perdue, Tyson Foods and QSI, a company that ran cleaning shifts for Tyson and is part of a conglomerate, the Vincit Group.

The injunction that the department is seeking against Fayette would ban it from refusing to cooperate with the investigation and from telling workers not to talk to investigators, according to a Labor Department spokesman, Jake Andrejat.

Fayette isn’t the only cleaning company to draw the scrutiny of federal regulators over accusations that it used child labor. Packers Sanitation Services Inc. paid a $1.5 million penalty last year after a Labor Department investigation found that children between the ages of 13 and 17 worked overnight shifts at 13 meat processing plants in eight states, mostly in the South and the Midwest.

Hannah Dreier contributed reporting.


Source link