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Sanitation Company Fined for Child Labor Violations at Meat-Packing Plants

A man is slicing meat on a cutting board.

​Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI) violated child labor laws by employing at least 102 minors in dangerous conditions at 13 meat-processing facilities in eight states, according to a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) investigation.

PSSI is a Kieler, Wis.-based sanitation company with 17,000 employees across 500 locations. It had contracts for sanitation services at about 450 meat-processing plants across the country when the DOL investigated 55 of those plants, the DOL said.

As a result of the investigation, the company recently paid $1.5 million in penalties for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The children worked overnight using caustic chemicals to clean back saws, brisket saws, head splitters and other equipment. At least three children were injured in the course of their work, the DOL reported.

The overnight shifts occurred at JBS Foods plants in Grand Island, Neb., and Worthington, Minn., and at Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, Minn. Twenty-seven minors were employed at a JBS Foods plant in Grand Island, Neb.; 26 minors were employed at a Cargill Inc. plant in Dodge City, Kan.; and 22 minors were employed at a JBS Foods plant in Worthington, Minn. Similar violations also occurred in Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Tennessee and Texas, the DOL reported.

"This is no clerical error or actions of rogue individuals or bad managers," DOL Principal Deputy Wage and Hour Administrator Jessica Looman said. "PSSI's systems flagged that these children were too young to work, and yet they were still employed at these facilities."

The DOL cannot comment on whether the children were undocumented immigrants or whether they were subject to human trafficking, said DOL Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Michael Lazzeri in Chicago.

"We are very much concerned about the exploitation of children. It is the employer's responsibility to maintain good records and ensure that they never employ children in violation of the law," Looman said.

PSSI spokesperson Gina Swensen said, "Our company has a zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under the age of 18 and fully shares the DOL's objective of ensuring full compliance at all locations. As soon as we became aware of the DOL's allegations, we conducted multiple additional audits of our employee base and hired a third-party law firm to review and help further strengthen our policies in this area.

"We have also conducted multiple additional trainings for hiring managers, including on spotting identity theft. Our audits and DOL's investigation confirmed that none of the individuals DOL cited as under the age of 18 work for the company today, and many had separated from employment with PSSI multiple years ago. The DOL has also not identified any managers aware of improper conduct that are currently employed by PSSI."

Court Judgment

The DOL began an investigation in August 2022 and filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court of Nebraska on Nov. 9, 2022. The court entered a judgment on Dec. 6, 2022, ordering PSSI to comply with the FLSA's child labor provisions in all of its operations nationwide, employ an outside compliance specialist and train managers on child labor laws. The compliance specialist will monitor and audit PSSI's compliance with the child labor provisions of the FLSA for three years.

The court order said the company must keep "accurate records of the date of birth of all employees under the age of 19" and make those records available to the DOL.

PSSI agreed to suspend or fire any managers responsible for child labor violations in the future. It also agreed to not retaliate against employees or family members of children because they filed a complaint related to FLSA violations.

U.S. Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda said, "The Department of Labor has made it absolutely clear that violations of child labor laws will not be tolerated. No child should ever be subject to the conditions found in this investigation. The courts have upheld the department's rightful authority to execute federal court-approved search warrants and compelled this employer to change their hiring practices to ensure compliance with the law."

Federal Law

Looman said the DOL has seen a 50 percent increase in child labor violations since 2018. Lazzeri said the increase in violations "runs the gamut across multiple industries. It's not just one thing."

Under the FLSA, employers cannot employ anyone under the age of 18 in jobs that are hazardous, such as roles involving manufacturing, baking, ammunition, explosives, forest fire fighting, operating farm equipment or mining. Minors are allowed to work in low-risk jobs like harvesting crops, cashiering, shelf stocking, busing tables and cleaning equipment that's not power-driven.

"There are just some jobs that are too dangerous for our children," Looman said. Employers "must remain vigilant about who is working in their facilities and who is cleaning their equipment. Nobody under 18 should be employed at a meat-packing plant."

Child labor laws have limitations on work hours that would interfere with a minor's schooling. Thus, 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds cannot:

  • Work more than three hours a day on school days.
  • Work more than 18 hours per week in school weeks.
  • Work more than eight hours a day on nonschool days.
  • Work more than 40 hours per week when school is not in session.
  • Work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. (except from June 1 through Labor Day, when their permissible hours are extended to 9 p.m.).


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