3 chicken plants hit in 2019 immigration raids agree to pay back wages


A federal agent directs Koch Foods Inc., employees following an immigration raid Wednesday morning, Aug. 7, 2019 in Morton, Miss. U.S. immigration officials raided several Mississippi food processing plants on Wednesday and signaled that the early-morning strikes were part of a large-scale operation targeting owners as well as employees. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Three Mississippi chicken processing plants among those targeted in one of the largest workplace immigration raids in the U.S. in the past decade have agreed to pay back wages after federal officials found they failed to pay minimum wage and overtime to their workers.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced Friday that three plants have paid $45,719 in back wages to 129 employees.

The plants targeted in the investigation were a Canton complex owned by Peco Foods of Tuscaloosa, Alabama; a Morton complex owned by Koch Foods of Park Ridge, Illinois; and Pearl River Foods of Carthage, a company headquartered in Gainesville, Georgia.

The Labor Department’s Wage and House Division found the employers failed to issue final paychecks to multiple workers. Officials also found that Pearl River Foods deducted so much money for uniforms that employees were illegally paid less than minimum wage. Investigators also determined Koch failed to include production bonuses when calculating overtime, another legal violation.

The Labor Department assessed a civil fine of $1,693 against Koch for employing a 15-year-old to work in meat processing. Children under 18 aren’t allowed to do that work under federal law.

It’s unclear if the investigation was related to the August 2019 raids.

Officials also raided A&B in Pelahatchie, PH Food in Morton and additional Peco Foods plant in Bay Springs and Sebastapol in the August 2019 raids, which led to the arrests of 680 workers accused of being in the country illegally or using forged documents to gain work.

The raids brought an outcry from critics who said some children had their parents swept up and that workers were unfairly targeted without going after the companies that employ them. In August, on the anniversary of the raids, officials said more than 125 people had been indicted on criminal charges. An unknown number of additional people have been deported in administrative proceedings without facing criminal charges.

Also indicted are four executives from two plants who federal officials said had harbored people in the U.S. illegally and assisted them with obtaining false documents to enable employment or making false statements about hiring workers without proper documents.

Salvador Delgado-Nieves and Iris Villalon worked at A&B, while Carolyn Johnson and Aubrey “Bart” Willis worked for Pearl River Foods. All have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled for trial next year.

Federal officials have said the raids were justified because people in the country illegally steal Social Security numbers to gain work. Mike Hurst, the U.S. Attorney in southern Mississippi, also argued that people in the country illegally take jobs from American citizens and depress their wages.

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