Affidavits describe child labor on southern Utah farm under FLDS leaders’ orders

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An image by CNN of the 2012 pecan harvest in southern Utah where hundreds of FLDS children were put to work in what federal authorities claim was a violation of child labor laws.

SALT LAKE CITY — A series of affidavits filed in federal court from children describe being ordered to work on a southern Utah farm picking pecans all day long with no pay.

The affidavits, filed as part of the U.S. Department of Labor’s child labor case against Paragon Contractors, were filed recently in U.S. District Court by ex-FLDS members who described the working conditions.

“We began work at 7:00 or 8:00 a.m. and worked until around 10:00 p.m.,” wrote Alyssa Bistline, 21, who said she began working the pecan harvest beginning when she was 13.

Bistline wrote that FLDS bishop Lyle Jeffs would use “the FLDS Church’s voicemail system to alert families that the harvest would begin.”

A 15-year-old girl wrote that she worked the farm for three years, beginning when she was 10. She testified she was not paid for any of her work.

“While we worked we were not allowed to sit in the vans to rest. They had men come around to check the vans a lot to make sure no one was in them and everyone was out working,” the girl wrote. “There were some girls that had allergies and reacted to the nuts and the dust on the ground. And they were told to keep picking nuts until it gets bad enough that you can’t work anymore and then maybe you can help with bagging the nuts.”

A 16-year-old girl said thousands of people were drafted to help with the harvest, including one day when an FLDS man announced they had 4,000 working. She wrote in her affidavit that she worked without food and once contracted pneumonia from working in the rain on the farm.

A boy wrote in an affidavit that he was six when he began working on the farm without any pay. He is nine now.

The U.S. Department of Labor is seeking back wages and recently leveled a multi-million dollar fine against the company and the FLDS Church. Lawyers for Paragon Contractors, according to court filings, recently withdrew from representing the company and no new counsel has filed an appearance.

Read some of the affidavits filed by adults working the farm here (addresses and ages redacted):

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