LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- A packer sanitation company that employed at least 102 minors in hazardous overnight jobs at packing plants across the country has paid a $1.5 million civil fine -- or $15,138 for each minor -- as part of a consent order issued by a federal court in Nebraska.
The U.S. Department of Labor announced on Friday that an investigation found 13-year-old to 17-year-old children employed by Wisconsin-based Packers Sanitation Services Inc. LTD, working overnight shifts at 13 meat-processing plants in eight states.
"The division found that children were working with hazardous chemicals and cleaning meat-processing equipment including back saws, brisket saws and head splitters," the DOL said in a news release.
"Investigators learned at least three minors suffered injuries while working for PSSI."
The DOL provided a list of the processing plants and the number of minors found working overnight shifts in plants in Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee and Texas.
Seventy-five of the 102 minors were found working at three plants -- JBS Foods in Grand Island, Nebraska (27); Cargill Inc. in Dodge City, Kansas (26); and JBS Foods in Worthington, Minnesota (22).
In addition, minor workers for PSSI were found working at Tyson Foods Inc. in Green Forest, Arkansas (6); Greater Omaha Packing Co. Inc. in Omaha (5); George's Inc. in Batesville, Arkansas (4); JBS Foods in Greeley, Colorado (4); Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, Minnesota (2); Maple Leaf Farms Inc., Milford, Indiana (2); and one each at Cargill Inc. in Fiona, Texas; Tyson Foods Inc. in Goodlettsville, Tennessee; Gibbon Packing Co. in Gibbon, Nebraska; and Buckhead Meat of Minnesota, St. Cloud, Minnesota.
"Our investigation found Packers Sanitation Services' systems flagged some young workers as minors, but the company ignored the flags," said Michael Lazzeri, wage and hour regional administrator at the DOL.
"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."
The company entered into a consent decree in December 2022. PSSI is required to take a number of actions, including hiring a third-party consultant to provide quarterly child labor compliance training to management personnel at the company.
The DOL had asked the federal court in Nebraska in November 2022 for a temporary national restraining order against PSSI.
While the legal action was initiated in Nebraska, the DOL said at the time in its complaint an "initial evidence review indicates PSSI may employ minor children under similar conditions at its other 400 operations across the country."
The DOL said it conducted a full investigation into PSSI's labor practices after receiving a tip from a law enforcement agency in Nebraska.
Under the terms of the agreement, the company will be required to allow a compliance specialist monitor and audit the company's compliance with the child labor provisions for three years. That is to include "periodic, unannounced site visits of at least six facilities on a quarterly basis."
Packers Sanitation Services also would be required to impose sanctions including termination or suspension of management personnel responsible for "child labor violations."
The company will be required to notify the DOL of each employee under 18 whose employment is terminated after the date of the court order.
As part of its investigation, the DOL found a 13-year-old suffered a "severe chemical burn" while cleaning at a JBS plant in Grand Island, Nebraska. According to the brief, two 14-year-old workers were interviewed by the DOL at the Grand Island plant, telling investigators they worked shifts of 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.
The Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits minors under the age of 14 from working and 14- and 15-year-old employees from working in non-agriculture jobs later than 9 p.m. from June 1 through Labor Day and past 7 p.m. the remainder of the year, according to the DOL.
In addition, those children are not allowed to work more than three hours on a school day, eight hours on a non-school day or more than 18 hours per week. The law also prohibits minors from operating motor vehicles, forklifts and using other hazardous equipment.
In a previous statement to DTN, PSSI said the company prohibits the employment of anyone under age 18 and was "surprised the DOL has taken this action given PSSI's corporate office has been cooperating with their inquiry, producing extensive documents and responses."
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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