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Meat-plant sanitation investigation discovers 50 child workers


A federal court in Nebraska entered a consent order and judgment after discovering 50 child workers at Packers Sanitation Services Inc. LTD — one of the nation’s largest providers of food safety sanitation services. The company has agreed to immediately comply with child labor laws at all facilities nationwide; according to the U.S. Department of Labor, “They will take significant steps to ensure future compliance, including employing an outside compliance specialist.”

But, laws regarding child labor are already in place to prevent these situations. 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.

The investigation began on Aug. 24, 2022, after the division received information alleging Packers Sanitation assigned minors to work in hazardous occupations. In response, the division executed warrants for the company’s operations at three plants (including the contracting done at a JBS USA packing facility), its local offices, and at PSSI’s Keiler, Wisconsin, corporate office.

In November, the department investigated PSSI at a packing plant in Nebraska after finding out that at least 31 children had been working in hazardous conditions cleaning dangerous powered equipment during overnight shifts, including one 13-year-old. Now, investigations have found at least 50 across additional locations, including George’s Inc. and Greater Omaha Packing Co. The department indicates that this number may increase as the investigation continues. 

PSSI provides contract sanitation services, chemical innovations, pest prevention, and other solutions for about 700 food processing facilities nationwide and employs approximately 17,000 workers. So, how did 50 or more teenagers — at least one as young as 13 — slip through the cracks? 

The investigation spurred an order on November 10 by U.S. District Court Judge John M. Gerrard that temporarily restrained the company and its employees from violating the child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, identified by the U.S. Department of Labor. The department’s investigation into the company’s child labor violations continues.

“By entering the temporary injunction and the consent order and judgment, the federal court has made it absolutely clear to Packers Sanitation Services Inc. and other employers that they will be held accountable for ensuring compliance with child labor laws and policing their supervising employees to uphold the law,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Christine Heri in Chicago.

“The Wage and Hour Division will complete its investigation and ensure children are not working in violation of federal laws at this company or at others,” said Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Michael Lazzeri in Chicago.

“Across the nation, we’ve seen child labor violations increase 50 percent since 2018. There are restrictions on the types of jobs young workers under 17 can do, and on the number of hours and times 14 and 15-year-olds can work. This case should serve as a stark reminder for all employers that the U.S. Department of Labor will not tolerate violations of the law, especially those that put vulnerable children at risk.”

»Related: Labor shortages continue to negatively affect agriculture

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