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Labor Dept. says Tennessee firm employed minors to clean meat saws, head splitters at slaughterhouses

From NBC: Another industrial slaughterhouse cleaner has been accused by the U.S. Labor Department of illegally employing children as young as 13 to

From NBC: Another industrial slaughterhouse cleaner has been accused by the U.S. Labor Department of illegally employing children as young as 13 to clean dangerous equipment on overnight shifts, according to a temporary restraining order filed in federal court Wednesday.


The Labor Department said that Tennessee-based Fayette Janitorial LLC illegally employed 15 children to clean a Perdue Farms poultry plant in Virginia and nine to clean a Seaboard Triumph Foods pork processing plant in Iowa. They cleaned such equipment as head splitters and meat bandsaws.

Fayette has 600 employees in 30 states, according to the company’s website.


Children under the age of 18 are not allowed to work in slaughterhouses because the work is considered by the federal government to be too dangerous.


Last summer, a 16-year-old migrant was killed at a Mississippi slaughterhouse when he was sucked into a machine that he was cleaning.


“Federal laws were established decades ago to prevent employers from profiting from the employment of children in dangerous jobs, yet we continue to find employers exploiting children.” said Jessica Looman, administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division. “As we’ve unfortunately seen in this case, employers’ violations of federal child labor laws have real consequences on children’s lives. Our actions to stop these violations will help ensure that more children are not hurt in the future.”


Fayette did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


In a statement, a Perdue Farms spokesperson said, “We terminated our contract with Fayette prior to this court filing. Underage labor has no place in our business or our industry. 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.”


NBC News was the first to report that in October, FBI agents discovered dozens of children working at a Kidron, Ohio, chicken plant called Gerber’s Poultry that had contracted with Fayette for sanitation. Most of the children are from Guatemala.


At the time, Gerber’s Poultry said in a statement, “We were surprised to learn that our Kidron, Ohio, plant is the subject of inquiry from federal law enforcement regarding the composition of our employees and some third-party contract employees. We are fully cooperating with that investigation. While we have confidence in our process to ensure we comply with all federal regulations to verify eligibility for employment, we are actively reviewing our policies to ensure compliance at every level and will continue to review our relationships with third party vendors and their policies in similar fashion.”


Fayette has also been scrutinized for serious safety violations by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, including an incident at Gerber’s Poultry in July 2022 when a worker became trapped in a conveyor belt.


OSHA cited Fayette Janitorial for failing to ensure its employees followed proper procedures by making sure machines were turned off.  Fayette paid a $13,052 penalty, according to the OSHA enforcement page. The agency lists the accident as an amputation incident on its website.


Fayette is the second large slaughterhouse cleaner found by the Labor Department to have employed children.


In 2023, the Labor Department found the national company Packers Sanitation Services Inc. had hired more than 100 children in 13 locations. The company paid a $1.5 million civil penalty.


In response to the Labor Department investigation, PSSI said in a statement, “PSSI has an absolute zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under the age of 18 and is fully committed to ensuring it is enforced at all local plants.”


Overall, the Labor Department reports a 152% increase in children illegally employed by companies since 2018. Many of them are Central Americans who came to the U.S. as unaccompanied minors. More than 300,000 children, most from Guatemala and Honduras, have entered the U.S. by themselves in the past three years, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.