Justice for Children Exploited by Utah Construction Company

By Karen Bobela and Joe Doolin

Bobby Johnson and Danny Steed, former members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, attended homeschool through the seventh grade, then started working in the construction industry. While other children their age were focused on passing math exams, Bobby and Danny were working full-time jobs in construction, operating equipment to prep and pour concrete on large-scale projects.

For nearly two years, starting when he was 13, Bobby worked for Phaze Concrete Inc. in Arizona, Kansas, Missouri and Wyoming. When Danny was 14, he worked for the company in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska for approximately nine months.

Bobby Johnson

Working between 12 and 14 hours per day, six days per week and earning roughly $200 every two weeks, Bobby and Danny were paid an effective rate of $1.19 per hour — not even close to the required federal minimum wage of $7.25.

During their employment with Phaze, Bobby and Danny were required to operate forklifts and use various types of saws to cut rebar and concrete.

For their protection, federal law strictly prohibits minors under the age of 16 from working in most jobs in the construction industry. It also prohibits minors under the age of 18 from working in certain hazardous occupations, including operating forklifts, skid-steers and some types of saws.

By employing Bobby and Danny, Phaze Concrete violated numerous provisions of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, including the types of jobs minors are allowed to work, the minimum wage, overtime pay, and recordkeeping.

The company’s actions in this case amount to exploitation of child labor. Prepared to go to court on the boys’ behalf, we filed a complaint and asked the judge for a preliminary injunction to prevent Phaze Concrete from employing other children in the same way.

Phaze Concrete quickly expressed an interest in settlement and agreed to pay full back wages and liquidated damages owed to Danny and Bobby, totaling $144,539. Importantly, the company also agreed to a permanent injunction to comply with the law. Going forward, if Phaze Concrete violates these laws, it will face even harsher consequences.

Child labor laws are designed to protect the educational opportunities of youth and prohibit their employment in jobs that are detrimental to their health and safety.

Children are the most vulnerable of all workers in our country and often their voices are not heard, so we give top priority to allegations of child labor. No penalty can undo an injury to a child.

We will use every enforcement tool available to enforce these laws so that the employment of children does not deprive them of their childhood; interfere with their ability to attend school; or have adverse mental, physical or social consequences.

Danny Steed

Workers or employers can learn more about the law by calling 1–866–4USWAGE (1–866–487–9243), or contacting their nearest Wage and Hour Division office.

Karen Bobela is the trial attorney for the department’s Regional Office of the Solicitor in Denver. Joe Doolin is the district director for the department’s Wage and Hour Division in Utah.