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Sanitation Company Fined $649,000 for Hiring Children in Slaughterhouses

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A Tennessee-based sanitation company has been fined more than $649,000 after an investigation revealed that it had illegally employed at least two dozen children at slaughterhouses and meatpacking facilities, the Labor Department said this week.

The company, Fayette Janitorial Service L.L.C., was found to have hired the children, some as young as 13, during overnight shifts that involved using corrosive materials to clean “dangerous kill floor equipment” at facilities in Sioux City, Iowa, and Accomac, Va., the department said in a news release.

A temporary restraining order in February required the company to stop employing the children, and on Monday, it agreed in federal court to pay the fine, hire a third party to make sure no underage workers are employed in the future and establish a program for reporting violations, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa.

It is illegal under the Fair Labor Standards Act to hire anyone under 18 for the kind of hazardous work that is often involved in meat and poultry slaughtering, processing, rendering and packing operations. But that has not stopped thousands of migrant children from coming to the United States from Mexico and Central America to work dangerous jobs, in places including meatpacking plants.

“The Department of Labor is determined to stop our nation’s children from being exploited and endangered in jobs they should never have been near,” Christine Heri, a lawyer with the Labor Department, said in the release. “In 2024, we still find U.S. companies employing children in risky jobs, jeopardizing their safety for profit.”

During the last financial year, investigators with the Labor Department found that more than 5,800 children had been employed in violation of federal child labor laws.

In a statement, Fayette that it had fully cooperated fully with the Labor Department throughout the investigation and that it had striven to maintain a “compliant” work force. “The realization that the use of fraudulent identification documents had allowed individuals under the age of 18 to circumvent our policies and procedures required immediate action,” Matthew R. Armour, the chief executive of the company, said in an email on Tuesday.

The investigation followed an article in The New York Times Magazine that reported Fayette had hired migrant children to work the overnight cleaning shift at the facility in Accomac, Va., which is run by Perdue Farms. The article was among a series of pieces by Hannah Dreier, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting on Monday.

One of the children, Marcos Cux, was hired at 13 by Fayette, shortly after arriving in Virginia from Guatemala. In February 2022, he was severely injured at the Perdue plant after reaching into a conveyor belt that suddenly began moving, tearing his forearm open to the bone, according to the Times article.

According to a complaint filed by the Labor Department in February requesting the injunction, “someone at the Perdue facility’s sanitation office” called 911 to report the injury. When a dispatcher asked the worker’s age, the caller was silent and 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, according to the Times article.

A spokeswoman for Perdue Farms said in an email on Tuesday that the company had terminated its contract with Fayette this year and had since “strengthened the screening and monitoring process for all our third-party contractors.”


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