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Mississippi company listed among the ‘Dirty Dozen’

A chicken processing company and a staffing agency that allowed a teenager to clean machines at a Hattiesburg plant, leading to his death, have landed on a national list of unsafe and reckless employers. 

The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health assembled its “Dirty Dozen” list compiled through nominations and released its report Thursday during Workers’ Memorial Week. 

“These are unsafe and reckless employers, risking the lives of workers and communities by failing to eliminate known, preventable hazards – and in at least one case, actively lobbying against better protections for workers,” the report states.

More than half of the companies included on the list have locations in Mississippi. 

Marc-Jac Poultry and Onin Staffing 

Onin Staffing hired 16-year-old Duvan Perez and placed him at the Mar-Jac Poultry plant in Hattiesburg. The night of July 14, 2023, he died after being pulled into a deboning machine. 

Federal law prohibits children from working in dangerous conditions such as meat processing plants, especially because of the machinery. In January, OSHA cited Mar-Jac for 17 violations relating to the teenager’s death and proposed over $212,000 in penalties. 

Duvan Perez, 16, a Hattiesburg middle-schooler, was killed July 14, 2023, while cleaning a deboning machine at Mar-Jac Poultry.
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Duvan Perez, 16, a Hattiesburg middle-schooler, was killed July 14, 2023, while cleaning a deboning machine at Mar-Jac Poultry. Credit: Courtesy of the family’s attorney, Seth Hunter

Mar-Jac said it relied on Onin to verify employees’ age, qualifications and training, and Onin denied being Duvan’s employer, according to court records. An attorney for Mar-Jac told NBC News the teenager used identification of a 32-year-old man to get the job. 

In February, Duvan’s mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Mar-Jac and Onin in the Forrest County Circuit Court. Responding to the complaint, both companies denied most of the allegations. 

“The plaintiff’s decedent’s negligence was the sole and/or proximate contributing cause of plaintiff’s injuries,” Mar-Jac states in its response to the complaint. 

Since 2020, two other workers have died at the Hattiesburg poultry plant, and workers have suffered amputations and other injuries, according to court records. 

To date, OSHA has cited Mar-Jac nearly 40 times for violations in the past decade, according to agency records. 

Tyson Foods

The company has operations across the country, including two mills in Carthage and Ceres, as well as hatcheries, feed mills, truck stops and other offices across Mississippi. 

The report said six workers have died since 2019 and over 140 have been injured from ammonia leaks, none of them in Mississippi. The gas is often used to refrigerate meat, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to the gas in high doses can be fatal. 

The report also said the company is under investigation for child labor violations, assigning children to work in dangerous high-risk jobs, which is illegal. 

In the past decade, OSHA has issued over 300 citations against Tyson, according to agency records. 

When asked about what it takes to get companies with a poor history of worker safety to protect employees, Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of COSH, said change is needed from all fronts, including having government agencies like Occupational Health and Safety Administration conduct routine inspections. 

She said workers are too fearful to complain. “They need these jobs for survival. Workers are fearful of losing their jobs,” she said.

Uber and Lyft

Nationwide, over 80 drivers for the rideshare apps have been killed on the job since 2017, according to Gig Workers Rising. The report says this is a sign that drivers are pressured to accept unsafe riders. 

Internal documents have shown 24,000 “alleged assaults and threats of assault” against Uber drivers, and workers of color and immigrants experience most of the danger, according to the report. 

JC Muhammad, a Lyft driver and organizer with the Chicago Gig Alliance, was physically assaulted by a passenger, and said the companies need a complete overhaul in how they protect drivers, including verification of passenger identification. 

In his situation, another person, allegedly the mother of the passenger, called for the ride. There was no verification for the person, and the passenger did not have an ID. Muhammad said he had no way to report what happened to police because he lacked the necessary information.

“We’ve had drivers robbed, assaulted, shot at,” he said during a Thursday press conference. “There are no protections, no protocols.”

In Mississippi, several drivers have been injured, including a woman grabbed by a drunk passenger in Ocean Springs in 2019; a man assaulted by his passenger in Oxford in 2021 and a woman driver shot in the head by a passenger in Gulfport in 2023. 

Two other companies included in the report are Waffle House and Walmart, which were cited for inadequate security to protect workers and customers and a lack of worker protections. Both have locations in Mississippi and have had incidents occur here, including shootings and fights

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