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Since 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor has seen a 69 percent increase in children being employed illegally by companies. In the last fiscal year, the department found 835 companies it investigated had employed more than 3,800 children in violation of labor laws.

As the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division and Office of the Solicitor continue to find serious illegal employment practices in the meat and poultry processing industries, a California poultry processor and supplier to supermarkets and food distributors has agreed to pay nearly $3.8 million in back wages, damages and penalties after the department found the company endangered young workers recklessly in Southern California.
Division investigators found that The Exclusive Poultry Inc. and related companies established by owner Tony Bran employed children as young as 14 years old to debone poultry using sharp knives and operate power-driven lifts to move pallets. The children also worked excessive hours in violation of federal child labor regulations. The company also retaliated against employees for cooperating with investigators by cutting their wages.

Bran and The Exclusive Poultry are subject to a consent judgment entered by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Nov. 16, 2023, after an investigation and litigation by the department. The investigation included two poultry plants controlled by Bran in City of Industry and La Puente, California.  Investigators found that Bran set up several front companies to employ workers at these plants. Those front companies were Meza Poultry LLC, Valtierra Poultry LLC, Sullon Poultry Inc. and Nollus’s Poultry LLC. The department has also obtained consent judgments against these companies and their owners.

The judgments resolve the lawsuit filed by the department based on the division’s findings that, in addition to their unlawful employment of children and retaliation against workers, the employers failed to pay workers their required wages.

Specifically, the division determined that Bran, The Exclusive Poultry and their associated companies willfully failed to pay required overtime wages to their employees, paying them either a piece rate or a straight time hourly rate even when they worked 50 or 60 hours per week. Investigators also found the employers failed to maintain required records when they intentionally omitted workers from payroll records.

Upon substantiating the child labor and overtime violations, the department’s Office of the Solicitor obtained from the U.S. District Court a temporary restraining order and an injunction to prevent Bran and The Exclusive Poultry from shipping into commerce any “hot goods,” in this case, poultry produced in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act and any goods from a location where the department observed child labor.

As directed by the consent judgment, Bran and The Exclusive Poultry must pay $3.5 million in back wages and damages to affected workers. Of that total, $300,000 in punitive damages and $100,614 in back wages will be paid to workers who faced retaliatory conduct. In addition, the employers must pay $201,104 in civil money penalties assessed by the division for the child labor and willful violations.

The judgment also requires Bran and The Exclusive Poultry to retain a monitor for three years to ensure future compliance and to show a hiring preference for those workers they fired following the department’s search of the poultry plants. Under that preference, Bran and The Exclusive Poultry must offer these workers employment first before hiring others.

The division’s West Covina District Office conducted the investigation and the department’s Office of the Solicitor in Los Angeles filed the complaint and secured the consent judgments. In conducting the enforcement action, the department worked with the Los Angeles County Office of Immigrant Affairs and its community partners, who provided support services to workers, and with the U.S. Marshals, who assisted with the execution of a search warrant at the two poultry processing plants.

The department is seeking any current or former employees of The Exclusive Poultry, Meza Poultry, Valtierra Poultry, Sullon Poultry or Nollus’s Poultry who believe they may be owed back wages. These employees should contact the West Covina District Office at (626) 966-0478.

The consent judgment is part of the department’s ongoing effort to combat child labor abuses and wage theft in the poultry and meat processing industries. The action follows the division’s investigation of Packers Sanitation Services Inc. and its assessment of $1.5 million in penalties for child labor violations in February 2023. In that case, investigators discovered that the company employed at least 102 children – from 13 to 17 years of age – in dangerous occupations and had them working overnight shifts at 13 meat processing facilities in eight states.

In March 2023, the department recovered $353,141 in back wages for 322 workers in Alabama and North Carolina who were denied overtime wages. Between 2020 and 2023, the department obtained judgments against three La Puente poultry processing companies requiring them to pay more than $1.2 million for denying overtime wages to 113 workers deliberately and using intimidation to hide their wage thefts. Investigators are also probing into the death of a 16-year-old worker at a Mississippi poultry plant.