Southern California poultry processor fined $3.8 million for hiring, endangering kids

A Southern California poultry supplier that employed children as young as 14 to operate power-driven lifts and debone chickens with sharp knives has agreed to pay nearly $3.8 million in back wages, damages and penalties.

Investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found The Exclusive Poultry Inc. and related companies with poultry processing plants in La Puente and the city of Industry “endangered young workers recklessly.”

Exclusive Poultry processes and supplies meat to a host of supermarkets and food distributors, including Ralphs, Aldi, Grocery Outlet and SYSCO Corp.

Labor investigators said Exclusive Poultry was established by owner Tony Bran, who set up several “front” companies — including Meza Poultry LLC, Valtierra Poultry LLC, Sullon Poultry Inc. and Nollus’s Poultry LLC — to employ workers at the two plants.

The judgment affects 437 employees who were either underpaid or working in violation of child labor laws.

Children employed by the company often worked excessive hours in violation of federal child labor regulations, investigators said, adding that Exclusive Poultry retaliated against workers for cooperating with the investigation by reducing their wages.

Representatives with Exclusive Poultry could not be reached for comment.

The Labor Department secured a consent judgment this month from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against Exclusive Poultry and Bran, following an investigation and litigation by the department.

The investigation — from Aug. 1, 2020 through October 2023 — found that Exclusive Poultry and its associated companies paid employees a straight hourly rate, even when they worked 50 to 60 hours a week. And some workers were intentionally omitted from payroll records, investigators said.

“These employers endangered children, stole their wages and threatened them with retaliation if they spoke to investigators about their illegal activity,” said Ruben Rosalez, the Wage and Hour Division’s regional administrator in San Francisco.

Bran and Exclusive Poultry have been ordered to pay $3.5 million in back wages and damages to affected workers. That includes $300,000 in punitive damages and $100,614 in back wages.

The employers must also pay $201,104 in civil penalties for “child labor and willful violations.”

The Wage and Hour Division’s West Covina district office conducted the investigation, and the department’s Office of the Solicitor in Los Angeles filed the complaint and secured the consent judgments.

The Labor Department worked with the Los Angeles County Office of Immigrant Affairs and its community partners, who provided support services to workers. U.S. Marshals assisted with the execution of a search warrant at the two processing plants.

Bran and his company will be required to retain a monitor for three years to ensure compliance and to show a hiring preference for workers who were fired following the department’s search of the poultry plants.

Labor investigators also secured an injunction from the U.S. District Court that prevents the companies from shipping any “hot goods,” which in this case are poultry products produced in violation of overtime and child labor laws.