UPDATE: Seaboard ends contract after 9 kids found working illegally in Sioux City meatpacking plant

The Seaboard Triumph Foods pork plant in Sioux City. Google Maps screenshot

By Amie Rivers

February 22, 2024

At least nine children were working on overnight shifts cleaning dangerous meatpacking equipment at a Sioux City plant, according to court filings Wednesday from the US Department of Labor (DOL).

The children were allegedly employed by Fayette Industrial, a Tennessee-based company that contracts with other companies to clean their facilities. Fayette had the children working at Seaboard Triumph Foods in Sioux City.

The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) started investigating Seaboard Triumph after receiving an anonymous tip about suspected child labor.

“During this surveillance, WHD witnessed employees entering the STF Plant who appeared to be minors based on their stature and appearance,” read the court documents. “Some of the potential minors carried ‘pink and purply sparkly backpacks.’ All of the younger-looking employees ‘noticeably hid their faces,’ while older employees entering the facility did not.”

Seaboard Triumph Foods sent a statement to Starting Line saying they were “disturbed” by the allegations. They said Fayette had only been contracted at the plant since September.

“In response to these allegations, we have terminated all contracts with Fayette,” the company said in the statement. “Such practices of an outside vendor, if true, are in violation of our company’s policies and procedures, which hold the safety and care of our workers in the highest regard. We will continue to fully cooperate with the Department of Labor on this matter.”

WHD investigators interviewed multiple minors who worked at the Sioux City plant. One child—identified as “Minor Child A”—told investigators they were 33 years old, but investigators later concluded they were 14 years and four months old when they were hired by Fayette. Minor Child A worked an 11 p.m.-6 a.m. shift Monday-Friday.

Another investigator spotted a minor worker wearing a T-shirt with “Class of 2025 South Sioux City High School” printed on it.

The DOL says Fayette Industrial employed children in Iowa as well as 15 children in a Virginia plant.

“Minors were used to clean dangerous kill floor equipment such as head splitters, jaw pullers, meat bandsaws, and neck clippers,” the DOL said in a release, adding that one 14-year-old in the Virginia plant suffered “severe injuries.”

The DOL filed an injunction and temporary restraining order against Fayette in the US District Court for the Northern District of Iowa that would force the company to stop using child labor.

Children under 18 are prohibited from working most jobs at meatpacking plants, including cleaning such equipment, by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

Iowa Republicans last year passed a broad law that violates at least some of the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, allowing children to work longer hours and in more dangerous jobs. The DOL said it will continue to enforce federal law regardless.

  • Amie Rivers

    Amie Rivers is Starting Line's community editor, labor reporter and newsletter snarker-in-chief. Previously, she was an award-winning journalist at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier; now, she very much enjoys making TikToks and memes. Send all story tips and pet photos to [email protected] and sign up for our newsletter here.

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