Kids found working on poultry plant kill floor where teen died last year

Children were allegedly among the workers on the kill floor of a poultry plant in Alabama operated by a company previously found responsible for the death of a teenager, according to court filings.

Investigators with the Wage and Hour Division earlier this month raided Mar-Jac Poultry, where they uncovered “oppressive child labor,” including “children working on the kill floor deboning poultry and cutting carcasses,” according to court filings obtained by the Hattiesburg American. Authorities were executing a civil search warrant at the time.

“The children had been working at the facility for months, and Defendant continually removed goods from the facility the entire time, including after the search warrant, and over the [Wage Hour Division’s] objection,” the filings said.

At least five minors were found “working on the killing floor, hanging live chickens on hooks for slaughter and cutting meat from the carcasses, which is a prohibited hazardous occupation for minors.” investigators said.

Mar-Jac Poultry has since denied knowing they had minors working at the facility. In a statement to ABC News, it claimed all of its workers were hired with documents “that showed they were over 18 years of age.” It further alleged the workers that government officials claim to be minors were not working on the kill floor but instead handled poultry in other areas of the facility, which is not illegal according the federal child labor laws.

“Mar-Jac will continue to vigorously defend itself and expects to prevail in this matter,” the company said. “Mar-Jac is committed to complying with all relevant law.”

In wake of the discovery, the Department of Labor sought a court order to stop the company from selling and shipping “poultry tainted by oppressive child labor.” Mar-Jac in response said it would have to layoff more than 1,000 workers if the facility is forced to temporarily shut down. Even just 30 days would result in “seismic economic consequences on the community,” it said.

It comes nearly a year after the death of Duvan Perez, a 16-year-old who died while cleaning a poultry processing machine at a Mar-Jac facility. Federal regulators earlier this year called his July 2023 death “a preventable, dangerous situation” that no worker should have been in, “let alone a child.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Mar-Jac Poultry with 14 serious and three “other than serious” violations and proposed $212,646 in penalties for Perez’s death. His mother has also filed wrongful death lawsuit against Mar-Jac and two of its employees as well as the hiring agency that landed her son the gig. She alleged the defendants “acted intentionally, willfully, wantonly, knowingly, with malice and/or were grossly negligent and in reckless disregard to the rights and the safety of the decedent and others similarly situated.”

A judge has not yet decided whether to block the selling and shipping of products from Mar-Jac Poultry’s Alabama facility.