After conducting an investigation, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has obtained a preliminary injunction against three poultry processing companies in La Puente and City of Industry, California, due to alleged child labor and violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
According to the DOL, Tony Elvis Bran, Karen Rios, Juan Valtierra, Javier Meza and Jacqueline Garcia worked together under their three companies – the Exclusive Poultry Inc., Valtierra Poultry LLC and Meza Poultry LLC.
“Tony Elvis Bran and his associates directed young workers — including employees under age 16 — to work full time and not go to school and to engage in dangerous jobs, including deboning poultry in meat coolers,” said Ruben Rosalez, DOL Wage and Hour Division regional administrator in San Francisco. “These employers endangered children, stole their wages and threatened them with retaliation if they spoke to investigators about their illegal activity.”
In addition to allegedly endangering children, stealing wages and interfering with an investigation, the processors also allegedly shipped “hot” goods – goods made using child labor.
“When employers build a business based on wage theft or violations of child labor laws, goods they produce become illegal contraband that cannot be shipped into commerce,” said Marc Pilotin, Regional Solicitor of Labor in San Francisco. “The Solicitor’s Office will use all tools it has to prevent and halt the shipment of such ‘hot goods,’ which insidiously harms workers and competition in the marketplace.”
The preliminary injunction will prohibit the employers from shipping goods made in the last 30 days of the injunction in facilities that allegedly used child labor and violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. The injunction will also prohibit them from threatening or harassing investigators and from threatening or retaliating against employees by, for example, shortening hours or terminating them.
Child labor in the spotlight
The poultry industry has been in the spotlight over the past year due to a rise in child labor investigations, especially after the death of 16-year-old Duvan Tomas Perez at a Mar-Jac Poultry plant in Mississippi.
Food sanitation company, Packers Sanitation Services Inc. LTD (PSSI), was fined $1.5 million earlier this year after the DOL Wage and Hour Division discovered that PSSI illegally employed more than 102 children. PSSI contracted with JBS and Turkey Valley Farms plants in Nebraska and Minnesota.
According to the DOL, there has been a 69% increase in the illegal employment of children since 2018.