The Department of Labor is looking for children who were not paid for picking pecans in a southern Utah orchard.
The U.S. Labor Department is searching for children who worked at the Southern Utah Pecan Ranch between 2008 and 2013.
hen autumn came and the pecans fell to the earth, the word went out among members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in southern Utah and northern Arizona: It was time for the children to join the harvest.
Schools closed, and workers as young as 6 picked, sorted and bagged nuts to be sold by Paragon Contractors Corp. The children were never paid.
Following a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Labor, a federal judge in Utah ordered the children be paid for their work. Now, the Labor Department just has to find them.
“We’ve made efforts since 2012 to identify the names and ages of people who worked at the pecan ranch,” said Karen Bobela, the Department of Labor’s lead attorney on the case, “and we’ve not had any success.”
So the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division is searching for children who worked at the Southern Utah Pecan Ranch between 2008 and 2013.
Flyers and fact sheets have been posted in the FLDS community known as Short Creek and surrounding cities. A claims form has been posted online. Former workers may also call the Wage and Hour Division’s Salt Lake City office at 801-257-6562.
U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell ordered Paragon to pay $200,000 in back wages to children found to have worked at the ranch in violation of child labor laws, though that figure could rise. Former workers who make a claim will be paid $7.25 an hour.
The ranch provided no employment records and the reclusive FLDS community has resisted attempts to put together a list of names, so the Labor Department doesn’t know how many workers it may find.
Some witnesses said a few hundred people worked at the ranch. Others said thousands. One woman testified that as many as 4,000 people worked the harvest on one day.
“I don’t recall ever knowing about that many minors being employed on one site in my career,” said Joe Doolin, district director for the Wage and Hour Division in Salt Lake City.
The lawsuit stemmed from a 2007 injunction ordering Paragon to stop using child labor on the ranch. When a CNN documentary showed children still working at the ranch in 2012, the Labor Department began an investigation.
Then-Labor Secretary Thomas Perez filed a lawsuit against the FLDS Church, church bishop Lyle Jeffs and Paragon operations manager Dale Barlow in September 2015. The same day, Perez filed a contempt of court action against Paragon and owner Brian Jessop for violating the 2007 injunction.
Campbell ordered the back payments in December 2016. The Labor Department has until April 14, 2018 to locate former workers.
Paragon has appealed Campbell’s ruling.
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