Poultry enterprise in California to pay $4.8M after employing children to work with sharp knives

The wage settlement is one of the largest ever reached for U.S. poultry workers.

May 2, 2024, 5:20 PM

The owners and operators of a network of California poultry processors and distributors were ordered to pay $4.8 million in back wages and damages and to give up $1 million in profits after a Department of Labor investigation found the owners illegally employed children as young as 14 to work dangerous jobs.

The wage settlement is one of the largest ever reached for U.S. poultry workers, the DOL said in a statement.

The investigation by the department's Wage and House Division involving A1 Meat Solutions, JRC Culinary Group, Moon Poultry and five other businesses alleged that the enterprise employed children in dangerous conditions, including using sharp knives to debone poultry.

Additionally, investigators found the employers and their associates denied poultry workers and packers overtime wages and falsified payroll records to obstruct the probe, the DOL said. Supervisors at the employers' facilities also allegedly retaliated against workers once the investigation began in January 2024, calling them derogatory slurs and changing terms of employment, investigators said.

"The employers in this case illegally employed children, some as young as 14 years old, to work with extremely sharp-edged knives to quickly debone poultry and denied hundreds of workers nearly $2 million in overtime wages," said Wage and Hour Administrator Jessica Looman in a press release.

Some of the companies named in the settlement supplied chicken to several pet food processors as well as numerous casinos and resorts in Nevada and California, the DOL said.

The consent order signed by a federal judge also demands the employers "give up $1 million in profits earned from the sale of goods tainted by oppressive child labor and pay assessed penalties of $171,919 for their child labor violations," the federal agency said.

The discovery of "oppressive" child labor permanently rendered the goods at these facilities "as contraband that [was] forbidden from entering commerce," the agency added.

The owners of the companies agreed to strong remedial measures to ensure future compliance, the Labor Department said.

Last year, the Labor Department investigated 955 cases of child labor violations, involving 5,792 children nationwide, including 502 children employed in violation of hazardous occupation standards.

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