Two separate federal investigations have been launched following the death of a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy last week at a chicken processing company in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. A police investigation states that at around 8 o’clock on Friday night, authorities discovered the body of Duvan Pérez stuck in a conveyor belt.
Forrest County Coroner Butch Benedict conducted an examination and concluded that Pérez died from injuries sustained in the workplace. After a pathologist examines the body, the autopsy results will be disclosed the following week, he added. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that Pérez’s death is the third fatality at the Mar-Jac Poultry plant in the last three years.
Two weeks prior to Pérez’s death, another 16-year-old boy in a Wisconsin sawmill was killed on the job. Despite a rise in high-profile incidents involving largely migrant children working in some of the nation’s most dangerous industries, Republican lawmakers have backed proposals to loosen regulations, reigniting objections about the use of child labor.
The fact that Duvan Pérez passed away as the result of an accident at work at a Mar-Jac Poultry plant is confirmed by the tweet that can be found below:
After Duvan Pérez died from a workplace accident at a Mar-Jac Poultry plant, the company said the 16-year-old “should not have been hired.” https://t.co/51zUtQtFOK
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) July 20, 2023
“How many more children must die?” Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the country, tweeted Wednesday. “We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Any lawmaker who wants to undermine child labor laws, in 2023, is a disgrace.”
A 16-year-old died working in a poultry plant on July 14. A teenager was killed in a saw mill on July 1.
How many more children must die?
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Any lawmaker who wants to undermine child labor laws, in 2023, is a disgrace.
— Liz Shuler (@LizShuler) July 19, 2023
For example, running or cleaning the machines inside meat and poultry processing industries is considered a “particular hazardous” or “detrimental” activity, and federal law has prohibited minors from having such positions since 1938. Despite this, the number of underage workers who are breaking the law has increased by 69% during 2018, according to the Labor Department.
According to Labor Department statistics, fiscal 2022 saw the highest number of occurrences since 2008, with agencies discovering over 3,800 youngsters had been illegally hired, of which 688 were working in hazardous industries. Numerous migrant youngsters were discovered by federal authorities last year working as cleaners in slaughterhouses across the country.
The Post previously reported that some of them recalled working a perilous night shift cleaning dangerous and sharp machinery with industrial-grade chemicals, resulting in chemical burns and sleep deprivation that negatively impacted their academic performance. An agency spokeswoman confirmed that two sections of the Labor Department, OSHA and the Wage and Hour Division, have opened investigations into Pérez’s death.
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According to a spokeswoman, investigators from Hattiesburg have also been called in. The death of the adolescent was described as a “tragedy” by Mar-Jac Poultry, and the company said that it was “compounded when we learned that the victim was a minor.”
Pérez “should not have been hired,” the firm said, adding that it uses staffing agencies to find new employees and that such agencies are responsible for checking applicants’ identities and legal status using the federal government’s E-Verify system.
“Mar-Jac would never knowingly put any employee, and certainly not a minor, in harm’s way but it appears, at this point in the investigation, that this individual’s age and identity were misrepresented on the paperwork,” the company said, adding that it would conduct “a thorough audit with the staffing companies to ensure that this kind of error never happens again.”
According to OSHA data, at least two additional workers at Mar-Jac Poultry’s Hattiesburg factory have died from causes related to their work in that time. Joel Velasco Toto, age 33, was murdered in 2020. This facility was fined $6,827. An OSHA report states that one year later, Bobby Butler, age 28, died after being entangled in equipment.
His death in 2021 cost Mar-Jac $27,306, and the corporation is appealing the fine. The Labor Department had proposed penalties of $379,800 against Mar-Jac in 2009, prior to those deaths, for 37 major safety and health breaches.
“Mar-Jac Poultry management should not wait until a serious injury or death occurs to any of its workers before making the necessary changes to its safety and health program,” Gei-Thae, head of OSHA’s Atlanta-East area office, said in a news release that year. There was a delay in the company’s response to our inquiries concerning the incidents.
The death of Pérez was felt keenly in Hattiesburg, a community located about 90 miles southeast of Jackson. According to his obituary, the adolescent emigrated to the United States six years ago and enjoyed hanging out with his loved ones, working out, and listening to music. One of his “greatest accomplishments” was putting enough money aside to buy an automobile.
In a statement, the Jackson-based group Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity expressed their “heavy hearts” over the loss of the young Latino worker.
People of Latinx and Indigenous descent often migrate to the United States to provide a better future for their families. “We come seeking a dream that doesn’t exist,” the statement adds.
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