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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. Last year the Department reported it had over 600 child labor investigations underway and continues to field complaints and initiate investigations to protect children.

And last year a California poultry processor and supplier to supermarkets and food distributors 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.

On March 4, 2024, Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su filed a petition to enforce the department’s subpoenas for information from L & Y Food, Chen Lu and another business and individual in connection with an investigation of minimum wage, overtime, record keeping and child labor violations. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

In response to the petition to enforce the subpoenas, Court House News Service reported that Gregory Patterson, an attorney for L & Y Food and Chen Lu, called the government’s conduct “shocking and reprehensible.” He went on to say the companies in question haven’t violated a single wage and hour law and are paying their workers bonuses, described as “piece-pay,” based on their output, such as boxes of cut chicken. This, the attorney said, isn’t illegal in California or the U.S. as long as it is more than minimum wage or overtime pay based on guaranteed minimum wage.

Subsequently, on March 20, 2024, investigators with the Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor claims it discovered oppressive child labor at a poultry processing facility at 15861 Salvatierra St., Irwindale, California where it observed children deboning poultry, during a March 20, 2024 civil search warrant.

The investigators claim children had been working at the facility for months and the employer continually removed goods from the facility the entire time, including after the search warrant, and over Wage and Hour Division’s objection. It says the goods processed in this facility up to April 19, 2024 are tainted by child labor and are now “hot goods” under the FLSA. “The goods removed from the facility are permanently hot and cannot enter commerce.”

Based on this information, on Saturday, March 30, 2024 the Wage and Hour Division filed a lawsuit in federal court against the three companies named as defendants in the complaint – L & Y Food of El Monte, which operates two poultry processing plants, Moon Poultry of Irwindale and JRC Culinary Group of Monterey Park. Fu Qian Chen Lu, according to the complaint, is the owner of the three businesses and responsible for their management.

Section 12(a) of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 212(a), prohibits Defendants from shipping or delivering for shipment in commerce any goods produced in that establishment in or about which within thirty days prior to the removal of such goods therefrom the oppressive child labor was employed.

The lawsuit seeks to permanently enjoin and restraining Defendants, their officers, agents, servants, employees, and those persons in active concert or participation with them from prospectively violating the FLSA including: Sections 11(a), 12, and 15(a)(4) of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 211(a), 212, and 215(a)(4)

It also asks that Defendants “disgorge all ill-gotten profits earned from any sale of goods produced in an establishment where the employed oppressive child labor and movement of this contraband.” And to to pay all civil monetary penalties arising from their violations of the FLSA’s prohibitions against oppressive child labor.

U.S. District Judge Otis Wright II on Monday April 1, 2024 issued a temporary restraining order to force the companies and their owners to stop using child labor, provide the Labor Department with the names of the people they have employed in the past year and their contact information, and not ship any products from the facilities where they used child labor.