Company Hired 24 Minors to Clean Slaughterhouses, Labor Department Says

A Tennessee-based company employed at least two dozen children as young as 13 to work overnight shifts cleaning dangerous equipment in slaughterhouses, including a 14-year-old whose arm was mangled in a piece of machinery, the Labor Department said on Wednesday.

The department filed a request on Wednesday for a temporary restraining order and injunction in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa against the company, Fayette Janitorial Service LLC. It provides cleaning services at slaughterhouses in several states, including Iowa and Virginia, where the department said an investigation had found that the company had hired children to clean plants.

The Labor Department opened its investigation after an article in The New York Times Magazine reported that Fayette had hired migrant children to work the overnight cleaning shift at a Perdue Farms plant on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

Fayette did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesman told The Times in September that the company was unaware of any minors on its staff and learned of the 14-year-old’s true age only after he was injured.

Meat processing is among the nation’s most dangerous industries, and minors are barred under federal law from working in slaughterhouses because of the high risk of injury. But that has not stopped thousands of destitute migrant children from coming to the United States from Mexico and Central America to work dangerous jobs, including in meatpacking plants.

The Labor Department found that Fayette had hired at least 24 children between the ages of 13 and 17 to work the overnight shift cleaning dangerous power-driven equipment at a Perdue plant in Accomack County, Va., and at a plant operated by Seaboard Triumph Foods in Sioux City, Iowa. Fifteen children were working at the Virginia plant, and at least nine children were found to be working at the Iowa plant, the department said in its complaint requesting the injunction and restraining order.

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