At a time when most junior high students might consider a retail or fast food job as a way to earn a couple extra bucks, Bobby Johnson and Danny Steed were full-time construction workers.
Recently filed court documents cite the teenagers working 12-14 hours/day, operating backholes, cutting rebar and pouring concrete for Hildale, Utah-based Phaze Concrete.
And as if breaking numerous provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act wasn’t bad enough, according to court reports the two underage workers were only being paid about $100/week – when they got paid.
But here’s where it gets even more unnerving. Federal attorneys are investigating claims that Phaze has recruited teenagers from within the notorious Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints for nearly a decade.
If that name rings a bell, it’s because the organization has a strong link to polygamy and was run by Warren Jeffs before he was sentenced to 20 years in jail for the felony sexual assault of two children.
Although never proven, Phaze and a related concrete company, Jack Daniels Construction, were the subjects of a 2015 investigation after former employees claimed that the companies allowed high school-age boys to operate heavy machinery and diverted their wages to – you guessed it – the FCLDS.
Although Phaze denies these allegations, they recently settled with the U.S. Department of Labor, awarding each boy $72,269 in back wages, agreeing to an injunction to pay minimum wages in the future, and not to use underage workers or keep employees on the job for more than 40 hours a week.
The company says it reached the agreement to avoid costly litigation. A judge must still approve the agreement.
The settlement was especially displeasing to one Wallace Jeffs, who previously worked for Phaze and with DOL investigators. Jeffs, who is the half-brother of the aforementioned Warren Jeffs, feels the federal government should have pursued criminal charges "This is just a slap on the wrist,” he stated, “they will continue [the labor practices] until their criminal organization is shut down."
In a related case, a judge found that Paragon Contractors, which also has ties to the FCLDS, used hundreds of children, some as young as 6, as laborers on a pecan farm. Paragon says the children and their families were volunteers gathering fallen nuts for the needy.