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Janitorial company hired minors to clean slaughterhouses, US Labor Dept. says

By Melissa Alonso, CNN

(CNN) — The U.S. Labor Department on Wednesday requested that a federal court issue a temporary injunction against Tennessee-based Fayette Janitorial Services after investigators found the company “employed children to clean and sanitize spaces and equipment during overnight shifts” in meat and poultry slaughtering establishments, according to a federal complaint.

“Minors were used to clean dangerous kill floor equipment such as head splitters, jaw pullers, meat bandsaws, and neck clippers,” the Labor Department said in a news release Wednesday.

According to the complaint, the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division “found that Fayette employs minors under the age of 18 whose job is to clean the killing floor.”

The Labor Department alleges the company employed children to work in slaughtering and meatpacking establishments including the Seaboard Triumph Foods Plant in Sioux City, Iowa and “in Accomac, Virginia, at a Perdue Farms poultry processing facility,” the complaint alleges.

In a statement to CNN, a Perdue spokesperson told CNN it “terminated our contract with Fayette Janitorial Services 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,” said Perdue’s statement.

A spokesperson for Fayette Janitorial said it is fully cooperating with the investigation.

“Fayette has always had a zero-tolerance policy for minor labor in the workforce, and we have continued to work diligently to ensure that something like this cannot occur,” the spokesperson said. “Fayette has made significant procedural improvements and enhancements over the past two years to bolster our hiring protocols.”

To fulfill janitorial service contracts, the janitorial company employed at least 24 children between the ages of 13 and 17 to work overnight shifts cleaning dangerous equipment, the complaint says.

According to the filing, the janitorial company employed 15 children, as young as 13-years-old, in Virginia and at least nine children in Iowa on its overnight sanitation shifts.

At least one teenager “at the Virginia facility suffered severe injuries while employed by Fayette,” said the news release.

On January 10, 2022, Fayette hired one minor “to work the overnight sanitation shift at the Perdue Facility, when he was 13 years old,” said the complaint.

One month later he “clocked in for his overnight shift at the Perdue Facility where they were tasked with cleaning and sanitizing power-driven meat processing machines, including equipment on the kill floor,” it said. At about 2:30 a.m. he “reached into a machine to remove a piece of debris while another employee engaged the assembly line,” the complaint read.

The machinery tore the child’s forearm, causing significant blood loss and severe lacerations, according to the complaint.

“The employment of children in hazardous occupations is an egregious violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act that should never occur,” said Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda in the news release.

“We are working diligently with other federal agencies to combat child labor exploitation nationwide,” Nanda said.

A telephonic motion hearing is set for March 3 in the case, court records show.

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