According to court documents, and a consent decree signed with the company on Monday, the Labor Department claims that a Los Angeles poultry processor employed children of as young as fourteen to debone chickens with sharp knives. The minors were hidden in closets by investigators who came to ask questions.
The Exclusive Poultry is a poultry processor that processes chicken in two locations around Los Angeles. It sells the chicken to retailers such as Aldi and Ralphs Grocery Co.
Jessica Looman is the administrator of Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division. She said that “The Exclusive Poultry and its owner Tony Bran withheld wages from workers, threatened young workers and retaliated to employees in order to hide their wrongdoing.” She said that the division would continue to “work at all levels of the industry in order to prevent employers and retailers from exploitation workers, including children for profit.”
Anthony McClaren told NBC News that the company’s lawyer was only making allegations. The case had just begun. We had just begun to investigate these allegations to determine if they were true.
McClaren stated that his client didn’t know if children were hired, but the company decided that a resolution was “in the best interests of moving forward” to reach a settlement with the federal agency.
McClaren stated that the company has effectively gone out of business following the settlement.
According to court documents, the Labor Department began its investigation in August 2022 when a federal agency received a complaint from an adult worker about allegedly unpaid wages.
The workers would not talk to them and run away. Labor investigators went to the poultry processing facilities of the company repeatedly. They said that they had seen young workers, who they estimated to be between 14 and 17 years old.
The Labor Department confirmed to NBC News that some workers were as old as 14.
In court affidavits, investigators claimed that employees had told them that minors were deboning chickens, working overtime six days a weeks, not attending school and some of these children had been hurt on the job.
Investigators allege that Bran, the owner of the company, threatened to reduce the pay of the workers after the Labor Department began its investigation. Bran allegedly yelled in Spanish at the employees, “threatening that they believed that the Department of Labor had opened their traps and that as a result, he would reduce their wages.”
Investigators were told by workers that minors working at the company had been hidden in bathrooms and closets when they arrived, so as to avoid being found.
In the consent decree the company agreed to a three-year monitoring period by a third party, to ensure that no minors were hired and wages were paid.
The Biden administration has launched a nationwide crackdown against wage theft and child labour. The department discovered more than 100 kids, some as young 13-years-old, cleaning slaughterhouses in the fall of 2022 for a Midwestern company.