FOOD SAFETY NEWS – If Homeland Security is investigating the meat industry for human trafficking as was reported, it could be a long time before anything specific about that is known.
But the Labor Department has now imposed monetary penalties totaling $1.5 million on a labor contractor who placed more than 100 children into hazardous meat industry jobs. Those jobs were far more widespread than first reported, turning up in eight states in meat plants run by such industry leaders as Tyson, JBS, and Cargill.
Packers Sanitation Services Inc. LTD, based in Kieler, WI, one of the nation’s largest food safety sanitation services providers paid $1.5 million in civil money penalties after the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found the company employed at least 102 children – from 13 to 17 years of age – in hazardous occupations and had them working overnight shifts at 13 meat processing facilities in eight states.
The first reports of Homeland’s investigation of meat plants for human trafficking came in December 2022 after The Labor Department’s initial court action over child labor cases in Nebraska. Human trafficking involves criminal schemes to force humans into work that often involves sexual slavery or exploitation.
The labor contractor’s payment of civil money penalties to the Labor Department is the result of the Wage and Hour Division’s investigation. The division found that children were working with hazardous chemicals and cleaning meat processing equipment including back saws, brisket saws, and head splitters. Investigators learned at least three minors suffered injuries while working for PSSI.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the department assessed Packers Sanitation Services $15,138 for each minor-aged employee who was employed in violation of the law. The amount is the maximum civil money penalty allowed by federal law.
The division began the Packers Sanitation Services Inc. investigation in August 2022, and on Nov. 9, 2022, the Solicitor’s Office filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court of Nebraska based on evidence that the company – which provides cleaning services under contract to some of the nation’s largest meat and poultry producers – had employed at least 31 children, from 13 to 17 years of age, in hazardous occupations to clean dangerous powered equipment during overnight shifts at JBS USA plants in Grand Island, NE, and Worthington, MiN, and at Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, MN.
U.S. District Court Judge John M. Gerrard responded by issuing a temporary restraining order on Nov. 10, 2022, forbidding the company and its employees from committing child labor violations. On Dec. 6, 2022, the U.S. District Court of Nebraska entered a consent order and judgment, in which the employer agreed to comply with the FLSA’s child labor provisions in all of its operations nationwide and to take significant steps to ensure future compliance with the law, including employing an outside compliance specialist.
“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,” explained Principal Deputy Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division Jessica Looman. “These children should never have been employed in meat packing plants and this can only happen when employers do not take responsibility to prevent child labor violations from occurring in the first place.”
“Our investigation found Packers Sanitation Services’ systems flagged some young workers as minors, but the company ignored the flags. 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,” said Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Michael Lazzeri in Chicago.
“The Department of Labor has made it absolutely clear that violations of child labor laws will not be tolerated,” said Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda. “No child should ever be subject to the conditions found in this investigation. The courts have upheld the department’s rightful authority to execute federal court-approved search warrants and compelled this employer to change their hiring practices to ensure compliance with the law. Let this case be a powerful reminder that all workers in the United States are entitled to the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act and that an employer who violates wage laws will be held accountable.”
The following 13 meat plants were locations contracting with Packers Sanitation Services and these relationships resulted in the provision of child labor for critical food safety jobs: