Slaughterhouse cleaning company fined $649K for child workers, some as young as 13

FILE - The US Department of Labor Building on March 26, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

A cleaning company has agreed to pay more than $649,000 in civil penalties after federal investigators found it employed at least 24 children – some as young as 13 – at slaughtering and meat packing facilities, the U.S. Department of Labor said.

Fayette Janitorial Service LLC, based in Somerville, Tennessee, must also hire a third-party to review and implement company policies to prevent child labor, and "establish a program for reporting concerns" about such illegal employment, the Labor Department announced on Monday.

An investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division found that the company, which operates as Fayette Industrial, employed at least 24 children, some as young as 13 years old. 

The children worked on overnight sanitation shifts at two separate slaughtering and meat packing facilities, identified as Seaboard Triumph Foods LLC in Sioux City, Iowa, and Perdue Farms in Accomac, Virginia. 

At the Seaboard Triumph facility, federal investigators witnessed children "concealing their faces and carrying glittered school backpacks before starting their overnight shift," the department said.  

Investigators learned children were put on overnight shifts to use corrosive cleaners "to clean dangerous kill floor equipment, including head splitters, jaw pullers, bandsaws and neck clippers." 

At least one child had suffered severe injuries at the Perdue Farms plant as the child tried to remove debris from dangerous machinery, the Labor Department said.

For its part, Seaboard Triumph Foods said it "immediately terminated all contracts with Fayette" when it learned of the Labor Departments allegations.

"Such conduct, if true, is in violation of our company’s policies and procedures and in violation of the strict commitments made by Fayette in their contract," Seaboard Triumph Foods told FOX Television Stations in a statement. "In addition to terminating the contract with Fayette, STF extended its partnership with the UFCW to bring sanitation services into STF and eliminate the use of third-party companies like Fayette." 

Seaboard Triumph Foods said it would continue to "take all appropriate follow-up measures to protect workers and ensure accountability for compliance of its contractors with labor and employment laws," as well as cooperate with the Department of Labor in their investigation of Fayette.

Perdue Farms told FOX Television Stations in a statement that "underage labor has no place in our business or industry." 

"It is unacceptable and runs counter to our values as a 104-year-old, family-owned company. 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," the company said. "We terminated our contract with Fayette Sanitation early this year, and we have strengthened the screening and monitoring process for all our third-party contractors."

On Feb. 27, the department obtained a preliminary injunction against Fayette Janitorial Service LLC in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa to stop the company’s illegal employment of children at its workplaces in more than 30 states. 

Fayette agreed to nationwide compliance six days after the department filed its motion for a temporary restraining order, the department said. 

Provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act, first passed in 1938, ban anyone under 18 from being employed in hazardous occupations common in meat and poultry slaughtering, processing, rendering and packing operations.

"The Department of Labor is determined to stop our nation’s children from being exploited and endangered in jobs they should never have been near," Labor Department Regional Solicitor Christine Heri said in a statement. 

"Children in hazardous occupations drove the Fair Labor Standards Act’s passage in 1938. Yet in 2024, we still find U.S. companies employing children in risky jobs, jeopardizing their safety for profit," Heri added. 

Fayette Industrial was ordered to maintain accurate records of all employees, including date of birth and work tasks assigned, the Labor Department said. It must also implement disciplinary actions – including suspension and termination – on any management personnel responsible for child labor violations.

In addition, the company must set up a toll-free number for people to seek guidance and report child labor compliance concerns anonymously.

This story was reported from Cincinnati.