Feds seek Mar-Jac workers help with teen death probe



The United States Department of Labor (DOL) is seeking help with the investigation of the death of a teenage employee at the Mar-Jac Poultry plant in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

On July 14, Duvan Tomas Perez died on the job, where he was reportedly conducting sanitation operations. Relatives of Perez said he was a 16-year-old Guatemalan immigrant and middle school student.

At the time, Mar-Jac stated that the DOL Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is investigating the incident and that the company was fully cooperating.

OSHA and DOL’s Wage and Hour Division have opened workplace safety and child labor investigations at the plant. OSHA has obtained a warrant from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi to gain access to the plant to conduct its investigation, and the warrant also allows federal officials to question any any employer, operator, agent or employee privately and to review records related to the operation and maintenance of the equipment involved in the incident.

“As federal investigators continue to try to understand how a 16-year-old died at the Mar-Jac Poultry plant in Hattiesburg, we are asking current Mar-Jac employees for their assistance,” said OSHA Area Director Courtney Bohannon said in a press release. “Federal law protects the rights of workers to participate in a U.S. Department of Labor investigation and forbids employers from interfering in any way, including by retaliating against an employee who does. With help from Mar-Jac’s workers, we can make sure the employer provides a safer environment for everyone who works there.”

Following the death of Perez, Mar-Jac’s Hattiesburg Complex Manager Joe Colee said in a press release: “Our employees are our most valuable asset and safety is our No. 1 priority. We strive daily to work as safely as possible and are truly devastated whenever an employee is injured.”

The company also stated that it was unaware of the victim’s age, and that he was hired by a staffing company which Mar-Jac didn’t identify.

To support the investigations, OSHA representatives are working closely with local community groups to establish trust with workers and their families.

OSHA has reportedly asked anyone who works at the Hattiesburg plant that is willing to answer questions related to the investigation to call the agency at +1.855.321.2742 or +1.601.965.4646. 

Anyone wishing to provide the Wage and Hour Division with relevant information is encouraged to call +1.866.487.9243.

Other fatalities at Hattiesburg plant

The death of Perez marks the third fatality to occur at the Hattiesburg plant in recent history. On December 15, 2020, Joel Velasco Toto died after an incident in the plant’s battery changing room. Police said that incident occurred as a result of horseplay.

Then, on May 31, 2021, Bobby Butler was killed while working with evisceration machinery in the plant.

The Hattiesburg poultry plant has been a part of Mar-Jac Poultry’s operations since 2014, when the company acquired the former assets of poultry integrator Marshall Durbin, located in Alabama and Mississippi in 2014.

Mar-Jac Poultry, according to the WATTPoultry.com Top Poultry Companies Database, is the 15th largest poultry producer in the United States, having processed 15.88 million pounds of ready-to-cook chicken on a weekly basis during the past year.