[16-Year-Old Dies while Working at Poultry Plant in Mississippi] - Common Dreams

Authorities confirmed Tuesday that Duvan Pérez, a 16-year-old boy from Guatemala, died last Friday at the Mar-Jac Poultry plant in Hattiesburg.

Pushing back against the framing of Pérez’s death as an unexpected mishap, Terri Gerstein, director of the Project on State and Local Enforcement at the Harvard Law School Center for Labor and a Just Economy, stressed that it was predictable and a crime.

“It’s not an unforeseeable accident,” Gerstein wrote on social media. “Employers aren’t allowed to hire kids in terribly dangerous workplaces for a reason.”

Pérez, a [student who was going into ninth grade], appears to have been unlawfully employed as a sanitation worker at Mar-Jac Poultry.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act, approved in 1938, prohibits employers from hiring anyone under the age of 18 to work in meat slaughtering, processing, and packing facilities—with limited exemptions for apprentices and student-learners who are at least 16 years old and enrolled in approved programs—due to the inherently hazardous nature of such jobs. All workers under 18 are barred from operating and cleaning power-driven meat processing machines.

Pérez’s death came less than two weeks after a 16-year-old boy died while working at a sawmill in northern Wisconsin in violation of state and national child labor regulations.

Since 2021, lawmakers in 14 states have introduced bills to weaken rules governing what kinds of workplace tasks minors are allowed to perform and for what wages. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has argued that this deregulatory attack is driven by corporations’ desire to ramp up exploitation.

According to [U.S. Department of Labor] data, the number of minors employed in violation of child labor laws increased by 283% from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2022. Over that same time period, the number of minors employed in violation of hazardous occupation orders rose 94%.

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Common Dreams

Locations: Mississippi Guatemala Wisconsin 

Organizations: Mar-Jac Poultry Harvard University United States Department of Labor (DOL) 

People: Terri Gerstein 

Tags: Child Labor Corporate Negligence Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 Legislation 

Type: Headlines