a Wisconsin industrial cleaning company is accused of illegally using child workersincluding one who was 13, to clean meat processing plants in Minnesota and Nebraska.
According to a civil complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Labor in the US court of Nebraska, Packers Sanitation Services Inc. had more than 30 children, ages 13 to 17, as cleaners at JBS USA’s meat processing plants in Grand Island, Nebraska and Worthington, Minnesota, and at Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, Minnesota. Federal labor law prohibits the use of workers under the age of 18 on murder floors or on mechanized processing equipment, because the work is a federally designated “dangerous occupation.”
The company is accused of violating federal labor laws by hiring at least one employee under 14 to clean a slaughter and meat processing facility, employing children under 15 to work night shifts during the school year turning and hiring workers under the age of 18 to work on the murder floor and cleaning powered machinery.
The Labor Department said several underage PSSI employees were injured on the job, including a 13-year-old who was burned by corrosive cleaning chemicals.
PSSI is based in Kieler, Wisconsin. The company describes itself as a “leading provider of food safety solutions”. According to its website, PSSI employs 17,000 people to provide cleaning and other services to more than 700 food processing plants.
In a statement, PSSI said it has an “absolute company-wide ban on hiring anyone under the age of 18 and zero tolerance for any violation of that policy — period.”
The company suggested that underage employees misrepresented their age in order to find work.
“PSSI has industry-leading, best-in-class procedures to confirm the identity 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 company said. “While rogue individuals may of course engage in fraud or identity theft, we are confident in our company’s strict compliance policies and will vigorously defend ourselves against these claims.”
The company said it has collaborated with researchers and will continue to do so.
However, a federal judge on Thursday approved a temporary restraining order that prohibits PSSI from hiring anyone under the age of 18 in a dangerous role and orders the company to keep records and not hinder investigators or try to influence employees not to cooperate. to work with researchers from the Labor Department.
In its request for the restraining order, the Department of Labor alleged that PSSI employees had intimidated underage employees to discourage them from collaborating with investigators and that at least one employee had deleted or manipulated employment data.
“Abusing children, exposing them to workplace hazards — and interfering with a federal investigation — demonstrates Packers Sanitation Services Inc.’s blatant disregard for the law and for the well-being of young workers,” said Michael Lazzeri, regional administrator for the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hours Division, in a statement.
The investigation began in late August after tips that PSSI was violating child labor laws. According to court documents, detectives issued arrest warrants at the three factories, the local PSSI offices that serve them and the PSSI headquarters in Wisconsin.
Labor Department spokesman Scott Allen said the department’s investigation has since expanded beyond the three plants.
“The investigation is now nationwide,” Allen said.
In a statement, Colorado-based JBS USA said it is launching its own “independent, third-party audit at all of our facilities to thoroughly evaluate this situation.”
“We take seriously the allegations against PSSI, which, if true, constitute a clear violation of our ethical policy,” the company said.