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Feds Find 100+ Children Illegally Employed in Hazardous Jobs

Packers Sanitation Services employed minors to use caustic chemicals to clean high-risk equipment at 13 meat processing facilities, pays $1.5 million in penalties.

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One of the nation’s largest food safety sanitation services providers has paid $1.5 million in civil money penalties after the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found the company employed at least 102 children—from 13 to 17 years of age—in hazardous occupations and had them working overnight shifts at 13 meat processing facilities in eight states.

The employer’s payment of civil money penalties is the result of the division’s investigation of Packers Sanitation Services, based in Kieler, Wisc. The division found that children were working with hazardous chemicals and cleaning meat processing equipment, including back saws, brisket saws, and head splitters. Investigators learned at least three minors suffered injuries while working for PSSI.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the department assessed PSSI $15,138 for each minor-aged employee who was employed in violation of the law. The amount is the maximum civil money penalty allowed by federal law.

Read article   U.S. Department of Labor Seeks to Protect Food Processing Workers

The division began the Packers Sanitation Services Inc. investigation in August 2022, and on Nov. 9, 2022, the Solicitor’s Office filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court of Nebraska based on evidence that the company—which provides cleaning services under contract to some of the nation’s largest meat and poultry producers—had employed at least 31 children, from 13 to 17 years of age, in hazardous occupations to clean dangerous powered equipment during overnight shifts at JBS USA plants in Grand Island, Neb., and Worthington, Minn., as well as Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, Minn. U.S. District Court Judge John M. Gerrard responded by issuing a temporary restraining order on Nov. 10, 2022, forbidding the company and its employees from committing child labor violations.

On Dec. 6, 2022, the U.S. District Court of Nebraska entered a consent order and judgment, in which the employer agreed to comply with the FLSA’s child labor provisions in all of its operations nationwide, and to take significant steps to ensure future compliance with the law, including employing an outside compliance specialist. On Feb. 16, 2023, PSSI paid $1.5 million in civil money penalties.

“Our investigation found Packers Sanitation Services’ systems flagged some young workers as minors, but the company ignored the flags,” says Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Michael Lazzeri in Chicago. “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.”

Read the full press release from the U.S. Department of Labor.

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