If Homeland Security is investigating the meat industry for human trafficking as reported, it could be a long time before anything specific is known about it. But the Department of Labor has now imposed monetary fines totaling $1.5 million on a labor contractor who placed more than 100 children in dangerous jobs in the meat industry. Those jobs were far more widespread than first reported, popping up in eight states at meat plants run by industry leaders including Tyson, JBS and Cargill.
Kieler, WI-based Packers Sanitation Services Inc. LTD, one of the nation’s largest providers of food safety sanitation services, paid $1.5 million in civil money penalties after the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor the US 13 to 17 year olds – in hazardous occupations and made them work night shifts at 13 meat processing facilities in eight states.
The first reports of Homeland’s investigation into human-smuggling meat plants came in December 2022 after the Department of Labor’s initial court action into child labor cases in Nebraska. Human trafficking involves criminal schemes to force people into work that often involves slavery or sexual exploitation.
The labor contractor’s payment of civil money penalties to the Department of Labor is the result of the Wage and Hour Division’s investigation. The division discovered that the children were working with dangerous chemicals and cleaning meat processing equipment, including back saws, chest saws and head slicers. Investigators learned that at least three minors sustained injuries while working for PSSI.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the department assessed Packers Sanitation Services at $15,138 for each minor employee who was employed in violation of the law. The amount is the maximum civil monetary penalty allowed by federal law.
The division began the investigation of Packers Sanitation Services Inc. in August 2022, and on November 9, 2022, the Attorney’s Office filed a complaint in the US District Court of Nebraska from the meat and poultry producers of largest farmyards in the country, had employed at least 31 children, ages 13 to 17, in hazardous occupations to clean hazardous motorized equipment during night shifts at JBS USA plants in Grand Island, NE, and Worthington, Minnesota , and at Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, MN.
US District Court Judge John M. Gerrard responded by issuing a temporary restraining order on November 10, 2022, for compelling the company and its employees not to commit child labor violations. on Dec 6, 2022, the US District Court for Nebraska entered an order and judgment by consent, in which the employer agreed to comply with the child labor provisions of the FLSA in all of its operations in across the country and take significant steps to ensure future compliance with the law, including hiring an outside compliance specialist.
“The child labor violations, in this case, were systemic, spanning eight states, and clearly indicate corporate failure on the part of Packers Sanitation Services at every level,” said Jessica Looman, deputy principal administrator for the Division of Sanitation. Hours and Wages. “These children should never have been employed in meatpacking plants and this can only happen when employers fail to take responsibility for preventing child labor violations from occurring in the first place.”
“Our investigation found that Packers Sanitation Services systems flagged some young workers as minors, but the company ignored the flags. When the Wage and Hour Division arrived with the court orders, the adults, who had recruited, hired and supervised these children, attempted to derail our efforts to investigate their labor 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 labor attorney Seema Nanda. “No child should be subjected to the conditions found in this investigation. The courts have upheld the department’s legitimate authority to execute federal court-approved search warrants and forced this employer to change its 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 that contracted with Packers Sanitation Services and these relationships resulted in the provision of child labor for critical food safety jobs:
|processor name||City||State||minors affected||assessed sanctions|
|Tyson Foods Inc.||Green Forest||arkansas||6||$90,828|
|Maple Leaf Farms Inc.||Milford||IN||2||$30,276|
|cargill inc||dodge city||Kansas||26||$393,588|
|Turkey Valley Farms||Marshall||Minnesota||2||$30,276|
|Minnesota Buckhead Beef||saint cloud||Minnesota||1||$15,138|
|Gibbon Packaging Company.||gibbon||NO||1||$15,138|
|JBS Foods||big island||NO||27||$408,726|
|Great Omaha Packing Co. Inc.||omaha||NO||5||$75,690|
|Tyson Foods Inc.||goodlettsville||Tennessee||1||$15,138|
|Total penalties paid by PSSI||$1,544,076|
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