HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WHLT) – The U.S. Department of Labor is calling on employees at Mar-Jac in Hattiesburg to help with an investigation into possible unsafe work conditions and illegal hiring practices.
This comes after an underaged employee was killed while working at the plant.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) opened a workplace safety and child labor investigation at the plant. The agency needs employees to come forward with any concerns about safety or child labor law violations.
“They’re going to talk to the employees just about their jobs and what they’re instructed to do, what kind of safety precautions does the company require, what kind of training have they got,” explained Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA agent.
The investigation comes after 16-year-old Duvan Thomas Perez was killed while performing sanitation duties at the poultry plant. OSHA recently had to get a warrant to investigate the inside of the plant.
“This company has a history of trying to limit OSHA after serious injuries. In fact, this company or their lawyer was once quoted saying ‘We want OSHA to put a bag over their head when they walk through the plant,'” said Berkowitz.
She believes Mar-Jac is trying to cover up unsafe conditions.
“It really gives you a sense that they have a lot to hide and that conditions in this plant probably violate the law,” said Berkowitz.
According to Berkowitz, the Department of Labor’s call for action from employees is unprecedented. She’s afraid Mar-Jac is trying to intimidate workers into silence.
“They’re making it very difficult for OSHA to talk to these workers. And for those workers, they live in fear if they’re if they talk to OSHA,” she said.
In a statement to WJTV 12 News, Mar-Jac refuted those claims saying, “We have always maintained an ‘open-door policy’ and encouraged all of our employees to bring any concern to the company’s attention.”
Mar-Jac said they’re cooperating fully with the investigation. If the company is found in violation, they could face fines up to $107,000.
To report any concerns to OSHA, Mar-Jac employees can contact OSHA at 855-321-6742 or the Jackson Area Office at 601-965-4606. They can also submit a confidential complaint online.