Alabama Poultry Plant Under Investigation for Child Labor and Teen’s Tragic Death

An Alabama poultry company is being investigated for hiring underage workers, just four months after they were found responsible for the death of a 16-year-old employee. 

Poultry Business Under Investigation

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The US Department of Labor is currently investigating an Alabama poultry company that allegedly hired four minors to work under illegal labor conditions. It was also found responsible for the death of a Mississippi teen late last year.

Lawsuit Filed

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Labor Department attorneys filed suit against Mar-Jac Poultry on May 7, in a bid to stop them from selling goods that had been produced via child labor.

Mar-Jac Denies Claims

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Mar-Jac Poultry, which operates plants, mills, and hatcheries in three states, has denied claims that it illegally employed four underage workers, as young as 16, to work in its processing facilities.

Investigations Since March

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However, court documents from the lawsuit allege that the department had been investigating the company since March due to a tip-off.

Working in “Oppressive” Conditions

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During the investigations, department representatives found four underage employees working overnight at a slaughterhouse owned by the company, in conditions that were described as “oppressive.”

Workers Reach Out

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Investigators allege that they also met with 18-year-old workers in the slaughterhouse who claimed that they had been hired by the company when they were as young as 18.

Misleading IDs

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The company claimed that all four workers had presented IDs that described their ages as older than 17. They also asserted that the workers had been assigned jobs that were not legally prohibited.

Potential Labor Violations

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Under federal law, persons under the age of 18 cannot work in certain roles at meat-processing plants, due to potentially dangerous working conditions. This law applies to all states.

In the “Rehang” Department

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The attorney representing Mar-Jac, Larry Stine, provided a brief explaining that the four employees worked in the “rehang department,” where their job was to hang deceased chickens and did not involve any power machinery.

Perfectly Legal?

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He said that under these circumstances, the worker’s jobs were not prohibited by labor laws regardless of their age. He then claimed that the company separately verified the ages of the workers and they were immediately fired, as it is against company policy to hire workers under 18 years old.

30-Day Shutdown

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If the Labor Department lawsuit is successful the affected poultry plant, located in Jasper, Walker County, may have to close for a 30-day period.

Undue Consequences

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However, Mar-Jac has argued that a 30-day shutdown would force them to lay off 1,000 workers, as well as slaughter and bury millions of chickens.

Largest Employer in the County

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The company is the largest employer in Walker County, and its Jasper plant currently processes over 1.6 million chickens per week, according to the Mar-Jac official website.

Affiliated Council Speaks Out

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Mar-Jac is part of a trade group, the National Chicken Council, which has now announced its “zero tolerance” policy for hiring minors to work in processing plants.

Zero Tolerance for Hiring Minors

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“The poultry industry has zero tolerance for the hiring of minors,” said council spokesman Tom Super in a public statement. “Our members have recently come together to form a Task Force to Prevent Child Labor.”

Child Labor Prevention Task Force

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He described the task force’s mission, which is “to treat this issue as non-competitive and to foster collaboration through the sharing of best practices that aid in the prevention of minors from gaining employment.”

“We Oppose All Unlawful Hiring”

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While he did not directly bring up the Mar-Jac lawsuit, Super did respond to a question about Mar-Jac’s attorneys’ claims that not all jobs in plants are prohibited for minors.  “Some jobs are lawful, some aren’t. We oppose all unlawful hiring.”

6 Months of Problems

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It’s been a concerning six months for Mar-Jac, which was found responsible for the death of a 16-year-old at one of its plants in Mississippi in July 2023.

16-Year-Old Killed

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16-year-old Duan Perez used the identity of a 32-year-old man to get work at the poultry plant and was killed after being sucked into the equipment he was cleaning.

OSHA Gets Involved

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Perez’s family later filed a wrongful death against the company. In January, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found Mar-Jac responsible for the death and said it had committed 15 serious labor violations.

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The postAlabama Poultry Plant Under Investigation for Child Labor and Teen’s Tragic Death first appeared on Liberty & Wealth.

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