One of the largest food sanitation service providers in the United States has been fined $1.5 million for violating child labor laws.
Packers Sanitations Services Inc. employed 102 children to clean “razor-sharp” saws and other “high-risk” equipment with caustic chemicals at locations in eight states, according to a report from the Department of Labor.
“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,” explained Jessica Looman, the Principal Deputy Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division, in a Feb. 17 statement. “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.”
The children were between the ages of 13 and 17 years old. They worked nightshifts at 13 meat processing facilities, including JBS USA plants in Grand Island, Nebraska, and Worthington, Minnesota, and Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, Minnesota. Other plants were located in Kansas, Tennessee, and Texas. The minors cleaned equipment, including back saws, brisket saws, and head splitters. The DOJ reported that at least three minors were injured during their employment.
Contact with caustic chemicals can corrode the skin, eyes, or mucus membranes, such as the nose, throat, mouth, and lungs.
The DOJ investigated the company from Aug. 24 through Nov. 9, 2022, before filing a complaint with the US District Court of Nebraska. On Nov. 10, District Court Judge John M. Gerrard ordered a permanent injunction against PSSI to prevent the continued violation of child labor laws.
PSSI “agreed to immediately comply with child labor laws at all facilities nationwide and to take significant steps to ensure future compliance, including employing an outside compliance specialist,” according to a DOJ press release.
“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 the statement.
PSSI was ordered to pay the maximum amount legally allowed by the Fair Labor Standards Act – $15,138 for each minor illegally employed. The company paid the civil fine on Feb. 16.
The FLSA prohibits anyone under the age of 14 from working. The policy also bars 14 and 15-year-olds from working after 9 PM between June 1 and Labor Day and after 7 PM during the school year. Minors cannot work for more than 3 hours on a school day, 8 hours on a non-school day, or for more than 18 hours in a week.
PSSI told KSTP on Feb. 17 that the company was “pleased to have finalized this settlement figure as part of our previously announced December resolution with the Department of Labor (DOL) that ends their inquiry.”
The company noted that none of the minors cited by the DOJ currently work for the company and that the investigation found that no managers currently employed were “aware of improper conduct.”
“We have been crystal clear from the start: 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.
… While we already have industry-leading procedures to help prevent identity theft – including mandatory use of the government’s E-Verify system for new hires, extensive training, multiple audits, and biometrics – we are fully committed to working with DOL to make additional improvements to enforce our prohibition of employing anyone under the age of 18.”