HATTIESBURG, MS – U.S. Department of Labor investigators are seeking to interview employees at a Hattiesburg poultry plant as they continue their probe into the death of a 16-year-old worker in July 2023.
The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Wage and Hour Division have opened workplace safety and child labor investigations at the Mar-Jac Poultry MS LLC plant. To aid the investigation, OSHA obtained a warrant from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi to secure access to the Mar-Jac facility and investigate safety hazards related to the incident. The warrant allowed federal officials to question any employer, operator, agent or employee privately and to review records related to the operation and maintenance of the equipment involved in the incident.
“As federal investigators continue to try to understand how a 16-year-old died at the Mar-Jac Poultry plant in Hattiesburg, we are asking current Mar-Jac employees for their assistance,” said OSHA Area Director Courtney Bohannon in Jackson, Mississippi. “Federal law protects the rights of workers to participate in a U.S. Department of Labor investigation and forbids employers from interfering in any way, including by retaliating against an employee who does. With help from Mar-Jac’s workers, we can make sure the employer provides a safer environment for everyone who works there.”
Employees at the Mar-Jac Poultry plant in Hattiesburg are asked to contact OSHA at 855-321-6742 or the Jackson Area Office at 601-965-4606, confidentially if they choose, if they have facts that might assist the investigations. Plant workers can also submit a confidential complaint online.
To support the investigations, OSHA representatives are working closely with local community groups to establish trust with workers and their families. In addition, the agency is collaborating with advocacy groups, such as the Immigrant Alliance for Justice & Equity of Mississippi, to contact immigrant workers fearful of retaliation by their employer if they cooperate with investigators.
“Child labor laws exist to safeguard young workers from tragedies like the one that happened at the Mar-Jac Poultry plant,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Audrey Hall. “To fully protect workers, we need information from employees and the community at-large. Workers can contact us directly at 866-487-9243 to file a complaint or share information confidentially, regardless of where they are from and without fear of retaliation. Workers can also contact the Employment Education and Outreach alliance hotline at 877-522-9832 to speak to someone confidentially in Spanish.”
Federal law gives everyone working in the U.S., regardless of immigration status, legal rights to a safe and healthy workplace and to file a confidential complaint and request an OSHA inspection if they believe hazardous conditions exist at their workplace or their employer is not following OSHA standards. Workers also have the legally protected right to report an employer they feel has retaliated against them for reporting safety concerns. Retaliation can involve reporting the employee to the police or immigration authorities. Complaints must be filed with OSHA within 30 days of the retaliation.
Headquartered in Gainesville, Georgia, Mar-Jac Poultry is an integrated poultry production company that operates processing plants, feed mills and hatcheries in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. Established in 1954, the company today produces two million birds and 8,500 tons of feed per week. Its poultry products are shipped worldwide, primarily serving the food service industry.