Sanitation firm accused of employing 31 children at animal slaughter facilities

Department of Labor complaint says Nebraska firm employed children ages 13 to 17 to work with ‘dangerous equipment’

A Nebraska sanitation services firm is facing a major complaint from the Department of Labor for allegedly employing 31 children in job duties that are illegal for those under 18 years old.

The Department of Labor filed the complaint against Packers Sanitation Services (PSSI) on Wednesday, issuing a request for a temporary injunction, as reported by the Daily Beast.

It accused the company of employing 31 children aged 13 to 17 to engage in cleanup of “dangerous power-driven equipment” at various animal slaughter and meatpacking locations.

The department’s accusations include the company allegedly making minors under the age of 16 work past 7pm on a weekday, making them work for more than 18 hours during the academic year when school is open, and making them engage in duties that involve hazardous machinery, specifically in a slaughtering and meatpacking establishment, such as meat- and bone-cutting saws.

The department’s wage and hour division (WHD) investigated the issue based on a tip that there might be minors working at facilities of the meatpacking chain JBS USA, which is a client of PSSI’s.

Between September and October, they conducted surveillance and found minors entering JBS’s Grand Island, Nebraska, facility as well as their Worthington, Minnesota, location. Other investigations included interviewing minors at a Marshall, Minnesota, facility of a separate company, Turkey Valley Farms, also a client of PSSI’s.

At JBS’s Grand Island location, a 13-year-old suffered severe burns from chemical cleaners.

The complaint further alleged that PSSI had created roadblocks for the department in its effort conduct an investigation, a move that plaintiffs said “perpetuates oppressive child labor”.

Their allegations of obstruction stemmed from a series of actions from the facility personnel.

The temporary restraining order would play a crucial role in furthering the “irreparable” harm that the operation has caused to the children, the complaint claimed.

On Friday, JBS USA told the Guardian that it was urgently looking into the matter, including an investigation and a third-party audit.

“JBS has zero tolerance for child labor, discrimination or unsafe working conditions for anyone working in our facilities,” Michael Koenig, JBS’s chief ethics & compliance officer, said in an email statement.

In a statement to the Guardian, Turkey Valley said it was conducting an internal review.

“We expect all contractors to share our commitment to the health and safety of any individuals working in our facilities and to adhere to these principles that foster a safe work environment as well as to all applicable federal and state labor laws,” the company said, adding that it would take necessary action based on the government’s investigation.

In a statement to the Guardian, PSSI said it had “an absolute company-wide prohibition against the employment of anyone under the age of 18 and zero tolerance for any violation of that policy – period”.

“PSSI has industry-leading, best-in-class procedures to confirm the identities of its employees including mandatory use of the government’s E-verify system for new hires, as well as extensive training, document verification, biometrics and multiple layers of audits,” the statement added. “While rogue individuals could of course seek to engage in fraud or identity theft, we are confident in our company’s strict compliance policies and will defend ourselves vigorously against these claims.

“We are also surprised the [labor department] has taken this action given PSSI’s corporate office has been cooperating with their inquiry, producing extensive documents and responses. PSSI also worked with the [government] recently and successfully completed multiple audits … that found no issues. PSSI will continue to cooperate … and will continue to enforce its absolute prohibition against employing anyone under the age of 18.”


Samira Asma-Sadeque in New York

The GuardianTramp

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