Packers Sanitation Services, a food sanitation contractor, has been fined $1.5 million by the U.S. Department of Labor for illegally employing over 100 children in meat processing facilities across eight states, including facilities belonging to some of the largest distributors in the country, such as Tyson Foods, JBS Foods, and Cargill. The department found that the company employed at least 102 children aged between 13 and 17 years old, who were working with hazardous chemicals and cleaning meat processing equipment, including saws and blades. The Labor Department discovered that at least three children were injured while on the job.
The Labor Department began its investigation in August and filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court of Nebraska, citing evidence that the company had hired at least 31 children to clean meatpacking equipment during overnight shifts at plants in Nebraska and Minnesota. Child laborers were also found working at plants in Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Tennessee, and Texas.
“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,” said Principal Deputy Administrator Jessica Looman in a statement.
Looman noted that the department has seen about a 50% increase in child labor violations since 2018. Legislators in Nebraska and Iowa are seeking to relax child labor laws to shore up the workforce in those states, while Minnesota’s bill would allow 16 and 17 year-olds to work in construction, and Iowa’s would allow 14 and 15 year-olds to work in meatpacking plants. However, critics say that such measures could lead to dangerous working conditions for minors.
According to a Packer Sanitation Services spokesperson, the company has a “zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under the age of 18” and has conducted “multiple additional trainings for hiring managers, including on spotting identity theft.” Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Michael Lazzeri said that when the Wage and Hour Division arrived with warrants, the adults who had recruited, hired, and supervised the children tried to derail the investigation.
Because the department is a civil law enforcement agency, officials are unable to comment on whether any of the plants might face criminal charges or whether any of the children were victims of labor trafficking. Lazzeri said any detected trafficking is referred to other agencies.
“Nobody under 18 should be working in a meat processing plant,” Looman said.
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