When the pecan harvest came, the local community schools would be ordered to close, and hundreds – sometimes thousands – of children in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints community would go to work. Children as young as five spent long days picking pecans at the Southern Utah Pecan Ranch in Hurricane, Utah. Some worked year-round maintaining the farm and hulling nuts – in rain or shine regardless of temperature, often in harsh working conditions. None of them were ever paid.
The practice continued for years. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division’s investigators learned that Paragon Contractors Corporation was the employer responsible for harvesting pecans and that it did so in conjunction with FLDS with unpaid child labor.
This wasn’t the first time Paragon and its owner, Brian Jessop, had flouted the law. A decade earlier, the division found the company employing children as construction workers. The department filed a complaint in federal court, and in 2007 Paragon agreed to the court’s consent judgment that prohibited Paragon from violating the Fair Labor Standards Act’s child labor provisions. In violation of the court’s order, Paragon again used child labor illegally, this time to harvest pecans.
Years of investigation and litigation ended with a judge’s recent order for the children who were employed illegally to receive the wages they are owed. The path to this outcome was long and challenging, as the FLDS Church and Paragon routinely refused to cooperate and obstructed the department’s investigation.
Since 1938, oppressive child labor has been illegal in the United States, a point reinforced by the 2007 consent judgment that expressly prohibited Paragon from further violations of the FLSA’s child labor provisions. Given Paragon’s willingness to defy the court’s earlier order, the department asked the court to approve its plan to prevent future violations of the law. The court agreed and put in place provisions to monitor the defendants and ensure that Paragon and Jessop no longer employ child labor in violation of the law.
Both parties are now required to make an initial payment of $200,000 to a fund to compensate the children who worked in the harvest. However, the defendants have failed to provide the names of the children who worked on the harvest, creating a significant challenge to finding those entitled to receive compensation. As a result, the department is now working to raise awareness and to notify those eligible for payment.
The department has an April 14, 2018, deadline to identify children who were involved in the harvest between 2008 and 2013, and inform them of the compensation opportunity. At the end of that one-year period, the court will determine if any additional amounts are owed by Paragon and Jessop.
If you were a minor who worked at the Southern Utah Pecan Ranch between 2008 and 2013, or know someone who was, claim forms can be submitted by mail or in person to the Wage and Hour Division in Salt Lake City and are available online.
Information on the claims process can be directed to the Wage and Hour Division at 801-257-6562 and is also available online at https://www.dol.gov/WHD/flsa/paragonflyer.pdf.
John Rainwater is the associate regional solicitor in Denver and Joe Doolin is the Salt Lake City District Office director for the department’s Wage and Hour Division.