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Investigation scrutinizes safety of child meat-plant sanitation workers

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A JBS plant’s sanitation company has been under scrutiny after a U.S. Department of Labor investigation over allegations that it placed hired child workers in hazardous conditions. A temporary injunction against the meat plant sanitation company, Packers Sanitation Services Inc. LTD — one of the nation’s leading providers of food safety sanitation — was handed out last week.

According to court documents, on Aug. 24, the labor department conducted an investigation of PSSI at the meat packing establishment owned and operated by JBS in Grand Island, Nebraska. The investigation is said to have turned up 31 children — including a 13-year-old employed at the facility and others under the age of 16 — working overnight shifts in hazardous occupations.

“The Department of Labor will use every available legal resource to protect workers — regardless of their age — and hold to account those employers who mistakenly believe they can violate the Fair Labor Standards Act, obstruct federal investigations, and retaliate against workers who assert their rights,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Christine Heri in Chicago.

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The labor department’s Wage and Hour investigation into PSSI didn’t stop there. The investigation reportedly turned up other minors employed in hazardous occupations at slaughtering and meat-packing establishments in Worthington and Marshall, Minnesota. 

“Federal laws were established decades ago to prevent employers from profiting by putting children in harm’s way,” said Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Michael Lazzeri in Chicago. “Taking advantage of children, exposing them to workplace dangers — and interfering with a federal investigation — demonstrates Packers Sanitation Services Inc.’s flagrant disregard for the law and for the well-being of young workers.”

Although children 14 and 15 years old can be employed outside of school hours, they can be hired only for non-manufacturing and non-hazardous jobs for limited periods of time under a stringent set of conditions. The Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits minors under the age of 14 from working and 14- and 15-year-old employees from working later than 9 p.m.

Given the nature of slaughtering facilities, the Department of Labor’s Child Labor Regulations includes many of occupations on the killing floor as hazardous including cleaning powered equipment.

The court documents indicate that the jobs performed by children were hazardous. Investigators also indicated that three of the minors who worked overnight shifts may have suffered chemical burns from PSSI’s chemical cleaners. 

The Secretary writes in the court filing that PSSI was interfering with the employee’s freedom to speak with representatives, impeding their ability to enforce labor policy. 

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