DOL fines fundamentalist Mormon church $1.9M over child labor

DOL fines fundamentalist Mormon church $1.9M over child labor
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The Department of Labor (DOL) is fining one of the largest fundamentalist Mormon churches $1.9 million for allegedly violating child labor laws.

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The agency says its wage and hour division conducted a multiyear investigation and found that leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) illegally hired young children in Southern Utah and northern Arizona to harvest pecans by hand for commercial sale.

On Wednesday, DOL took administrative action to collect $1.9 million from FLDS Church members Dale Barlow and Brian Jessop, and Paragon Contractors Corp. for child labor violations that occurred during the 2012-2013 pecan harvest.

The department has also filed a lawsuit against the FLDS Church Bishop Lyle Jeffs and Barlow to claim back wages and initiated a contempt of court action against Jessop and Paragon for violating a 2007 court order that restrained them from violating child labor laws.

FLDS leaders are accused of directing schools in Hildale, Utah, and nearby Colorado City, Ariz., to close so children and adult laborers could collect pecans. DOL investigators said they found that at least 175 children under the age of 13 were harvesting pecans.

At least 1,400 FLDS children and adults allegedly worked in the fields for no compensation.

“For years, these employers have trampled on the rights of workers, both children and adults, and violated our child labor laws forcing minors to work for them,” David Weil, administrator of DOL’s Wage and Hour Division. “Such disregard for the rights of all workers, especially children, will not be tolerated.”