SALT LAKE CITY — For most children, fall begins a new school year full of possibilities to learn and prepare for their lives ahead and future jobs. Unfortunately, for hundreds of children in Southern Utah and northern Arizona, the season is a time for hard work harvesting pecans by hand for commercial sale.
A multi-year investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division revealed that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, FLDS church bishop Lyle Jeffs, Dale Barlow, Brian Jessop, and Paragon Contractors Corp. employed young children illegally to harvest pecans.
Wednesday, the department took administrative action to collect $1.9 million in civil penalties from Paragon, Jessop and Barlow associated with child labor violations from the 2012-2013 pecan harvest.
The department also filed a lawsuit against the church, Jeffs and Barlow seeking back wages; and initiated a contempt of court action against Jessop and Paragon for violating a 2007 court order that restrained them from violating child labor laws.
In its investigation, the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division found FLDS leaders directed schools in Hildale and Colorado City be closed so that children and adult laborers could work collecting pecans.
During the 2012-2013 harvest, investigators found that at least 175 children under the age of 13 worked harvesting pecans. At least 1,400 FLDS children and adults worked in the fields for no compensation.
“For years, these employers have trampled on the rights of workers, both children and adults, and violated our child labor laws forcing minors to work for them. Such disregard for the rights of all workers, especially children, will not be tolerated,” said Wage and Hour division administrator David Weil. “The legal actions taken today send a clear message that the Wage and Hour Division will take any and all actions necessary to protect the rights of the most vulnerable. Today we speak up for those who could not or would not speak up for themselves.”
To stop oppressive child labor, secure payment of workers’ lawful wages and compel the employers to obey the law, the Department of Labor has taken a series of actions:
- Between 2013 and April 2015, the Department of Labor successfully litigated numerous subpoena enforcement actions to investigate the child labor violations committed by Paragon and the FLDS Church when the employers repeatedly refused to provide information.
- The department filed a lawsuit against the FLDS Church, Jeffs, and Barlow Sept. 8, alleging that in 2012 and 2013, these employers violated the minimum wage, overtime, record keeping and child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
- Also on Sept. 8, the department initiated a contempt of court action against Jessop and Paragon for violating a 2007 court order that restrained them from violating child labor laws, by employing children in the pecan harvest.
- Finally, the department commenced an administrative action seeking $1.9 million in civil money penalties from Paragon, Jessop, and Barlow for associated child labor violations from the 2012-2013 pecan harvest.
Some penalty assessments against the FLDS Church and Jeffs have already become final orders of the department, as those parties did not contest the penalties when they were assessed against them.
- Workers and employers can get more information about federal wage laws administered by the Wage and Hour Division by calling the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243)
- Workers can also file complaints confidentially. Information is available online
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