Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Slaughterhouse-cleaning firm paid $1.5 million in fines after feds found minors using chemicals to clean equipment

Department of Labor map
In the fall of 2022, the Labor Department got an injunction from a federal judge in Nebraska requiring Packer Sanitation Services Inc. to stop 'employing oppressive child labor' and to comply with the department's investigation of the firm.

The department has now ended its inquiry saying it found "102 children as young as 13 working hazardous overnight jobs cleaning slaughterhouses in eight states in what it called a 'corporate-wide failure” by one of the largest food sanitation companies in the country," report Laura Strickler and Julia Ainsley of NBC News. "The Labor Department says the children who were working overnight shifts used 'caustic chemicals to clean razor-sharp saws."

Michael Lazzeri, regional administrator for the division in Chicago, told NBC, “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.”     

PSSI has paid a $1.5 million fine for the violations, "dictated by the Fair Labor Standards Act, which allows a penalty of $15,138 for each minor who was employed in violation of the law, according to the Labor Department," NBC explains. "Advocates and lawyers for the children say some of the child workers for PSSI were unaccompanied minors who recently came across the southern border. . . . The company signed a consent decree in December with the Labor Department and agreed to abide by child labor laws after federal investigators documented 50 children working at slaughterhouses for it."

The company issued a statement: "We are pleased to have finalized this settlement figure as part of our previously announced December resolution with the DOL that ends their inquiry. We have been crystal clear from the start: Our company has a zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under the age of 18 and fully shares the DOL’s objective of ensuring full compliance at all locations."

The company is based in Kieler, Wiscomsin, and contracts with at least 700 facilities and employee over 17,000 people nationwide, its website says.

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