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Labor Department investigation finds underage workers at plants

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Temporary injunction against meat plant sanitation company awarded.

A temporary injunction was granted in the U.S. District Court of Nebraska on Thursday after the U.S. Department of Labor filed a complaint against Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI) for illegally employing dozens of minor-aged workers.

The complaint was prompted after an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division discovered PSSI had employed at least 31 children – from 13 to 17 years of age – in hazardous occupations. The jobs performed by children included cleaning dangerous powered equipment during overnight shifts to fulfill sanitation contracts at JBS USA plants in Grand Island, Nebraska and Worthington, Minnesota, and at Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, Minnesota.

Investigators also learned that several minors employed by PSSI ­– including one 13-years-old – suffered caustic chemical burns and other injuries.

In its filing, the department alleges the food sanitation contractor interfered with an investigation by intimidating minor workers to stop them from cooperating with investigators. PSSI also allegedly deleted and manipulated employment files.

“The Department of Labor will use every available legal resource to protect workers – regardless of their age – and hold to account those employers who mistakenly believe they can violate the Fair Labor Standards Act, obstruct federal investigations, and retaliate against workers who assert their rights,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Christine Heri.

The investigation at PSSI began on Aug. 24, 2022, when the division received credible information alleging the company assigned minors to work in hazardous occupation. The division executed warrants for the company’s operations at the three plants, its local offices and at PSSI’s Keiler, Wisconsin, corporate office. 

House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott said violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by employing minors is never acceptable.

“It is a shame when this occurs in any industry, and I am particularly upset to see it occurring in our beloved agriculture industry,” he said. “I am glad the Department of Labor acted on the referrals from law enforcement officials and uncovered the actions that were endangering children. This situation must handled with appropriate accountability and measures must be taken to prevent such violations from occurring in the future.  And, as chairman of our House Agriculture Committee, this is what I’m working to make sure happens."

PSSI provides contract sanitation services, chemical innovations, pest prevention and other solutions for about 700 food processing facilities nationwide and employs about 17,000 workers.

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