‘Should not have been hired’: Mar-Jac releases new info following teen’s death

New details emerge in teen's death at poultry plant
Published: Jul. 20, 2023 at 4:16 PM CDT
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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - The Hattiesburg-based poultry company involved in the death of a 16-year-old working in its plant has issued a statement regarding the ongoing investigation.

Mar-Jac Poultry MS LLC released a statement Thursday afternoon addressing their full cooperation with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) investigation into the incident, as well as some background into the possible hire of Duvan Pérez, the victim of a fatal accident that happened at the poultry plant on July 8.

Below is Mar-Jac MS’s full statement:

The poultry company stated that Pérez was a part of the sanitation crew at the plant. Mar-Jac MS says he became “entangled in machinery” while he was cleaning at the plant. Previously, Mar-Jac stated that Pérez was “conducting sanitation operations” when the accident happened.

Mar-Jac MS went on to mention that the accident resulted in them finding out that Pérez was a minor, something that did not know before because he was hired by a third-party staffing company.

“Due to an unprecedentedly tight labor market, Mar-Jac MS relies on staffing companies to fill positions at its facility,” the poultry company said in its statement.

In the statement, Mar-Jac says Pérez should have not been hired since he was under the age of 18, claiming that his age and identity were not accurate on the paperwork.

“Although the investigation is ongoing, it appears now that this worker was less than 18 years of age and should not have been hired,” said the company. “Mar-Jac MS would never knowingly put any employee, and certainly a minor, in harm’s way, but it appears, at this point in the investigation, that this individual’s age and identity were misrepresented on the paperwork.”

According to the statement, Mar-Jac says staffing companies are contracted with them to make sure that every applicant is legally qualified to work before they start any job, which includes verifying their identity (including age) and immigration status using the I-9 form recommended by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and through the government’s E-Verify system.

Mar-Jac goes on to mention how they try to follow the law, which does not allow people under the age of 18 to legally have employment, but they do acknowledge that young people in the state and other places are willing to work to provide for themselves and their families.

“We are devastated at the loss of life, and deeply regret that an underage individual was hired without our knowledge,” said Mar-Jac MS.

According to reports from Guatemalan media outlets, Pérez was originally from Huispache, a village in Guatemala, and immigrated to the Hattiesburg area as a young child. At the time of his death, he attended the Hattiesburg School Public School District.

Many questions have been raised following the fatal accident regarding the hiring of minors at meat and poultry plants, along with multiple agencies opening investigations into Pérez’s death.

A former senior advisor for OSHA spoke about how the teenager should have never been hired to work in the poultry plant, along with hearing from his family in Guatemala about how the tragedy has affected them and asking for help to bring him back to his native country for a funeral.

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