One of the nation’s largest food sanitation companies was fined $1.5 million for illegally placing 102 children between the ages of 13 and 17 in hazardous occupations and overnight shift work at 13 meat packing plants around the country, according to an investigation conducted by the Department of Labor.
Packers Sanitation Services Inc., which provides contracted sanitation services to some of the nation’s largest meat and poultry producers, was found to be in violation of child labor laws at several plant locations around the nation, including facilities in Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Texas.
The DOL found that PSSI employed 27 minors at the JBS Foods plant in Grand Island, Nebraska. In addition, the company hired 26 minors at the Cargill Inc. Dodge City, Kansas, facility. Another 22 children were employed at the JBS Foods processing facility in Worthington, Minnesota.
The children worked with hazardous chemicals and cleaned dangerous meat processing equipment, such as back saws, brisket saws, and head splitters. According to the DOL’s investigators, at least three children suffered injuries while on the job.
The company was fined $15,138 per child, the maximum penalty allowed by federal law.
Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda stated, “The Department of Labor has made it absolutely clear that violations of child labor laws will not be tolerated.”
Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Michael Lazzeri explained that the DOL flagged several young employees as minors, but PSSI ignored the flags.
“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,” Lazzeri said.
“The child labor violations in this case were systemic and reached across eight states, and clearly indicate a corporate-wide failure by Packers Sanitation Services at all levels,” stated principal deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division Jessica Looman.
“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,” Looman added.
PSSI entered a consent order and judgment in December, which required the company to employ a third-party consultant or compliance specialist to perform audits and provide quarterly child labor compliance training. On February 16, the sanitation company paid the $1.5 million fine, according to the DOL.
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