Company Fined $1.5 Million for Hiring Minors in Hazardous Jobs at Meatpacking Plants

Caden Pearson
By Caden Pearson
February 18, 2023US News
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Company Fined $1.5 Million for Hiring Minors in Hazardous Jobs at Meatpacking Plants
Lean ground beef for sale in a California Walmart in a file photo. (Robyn Beck/AFP/GettyImages)

One of the nation’s largest food sanitation service providers has been fined $1.5 million for employing at least 102 minors in dangerous jobs cleaning meatpacking plants in several states, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI) was found to have breached child labor regulations, with children as young as 13 years old working overnight shifts in 13 meat processing facilities across eight states, allegedly using hazardous chemicals to clean saws and other equipment.

According to the DOL, the children were allegedly engaged in working with unsafe chemicals and cleaning meat processing equipment such as back saws, brisket saws, and head splitters. The investigation discovered that at least three minors had been injured while working for the company.

Jessica Looman, principal deputy administrator of the DOL’s Wage and Hour division, said the child labor violations in the case were systemic, reaching across eight states.

“These children should never have been employed in meat packing plants and this can only happen when employers do not take responsibility to prevent child labor violations from occurring in the first place,” she said in a statement.

The DOL imposed the maximum penalty of $15,138 for each minor-aged employee allowed by law under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Investigation

PSSI offers sanitation services to some of the largest meat and poultry producers in the country. However, the company came under scrutiny in August 2022 when the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division launched an investigation. After the investigation, the Solicitor’s Office filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court of Nebraska on Nov. 9, 2022.

The complaint was based on evidence that Packers Sanitation Services Inc. had hired more than 30 children, aged between 13 and 17, to carry out jobs that included allegedly cleaning dangerous machinery at JBS USA plants in Grand Island, Nebraska, and Worthington, Minnesota, as well as Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, Minnesota.

U.S. District Court Judge John M. Gerrard issued a temporary restraining order on Nov. 10, 2022, which prohibits PSSI and its employees from engaging in child labor violations.

Michael Lazzeri, the Chicago regional administrator of the DOL’s Wage and Hour division, said the individuals who had employed the minors tried to derail their investigations.

“Our investigation found Packers Sanitation Services’ systems flagged some young workers as minors, but the company ignored the flags,” Lazzeri said. “When the Wage and Hour Division arrived with warrants, the adults—who had recruited, hired and supervised these children—tried to derail our efforts to investigate their employment practices.”

The U.S. District Court of Nebraska entered a consent order and judgment on Dec. 6, 2022, in which the company agreed to follow the child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act in all of its operations across the nation, according to court documents (pdf).

In order to ensure future compliance, the court ordered PSSI to hire an external compliance specialist within 90 days “to provide quarterly child labor compliance training to all management personnel for a period of three years; thereafter annual training will be provided and new managers will be trained as part of their onboarding process.”

In a statement obtained by the Washington Post, a spokesperson for the company said PSSI has a “zero-tolerance policy” on employing underage workers.

The Epoch Times contacted PSSI for further comment.

In July 2022, DOL reported an increase in child labor violations, revealing that nearly 2,819 minors were employed in violation of the law in 2021.

The agency said it has investigated deaths of young workers in recent years, with three occurring in 2021 alone, and launched a campaign to enhance employer outreach and enforcement actions.

From The Epoch Times

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