Food sanitation company receives $1.5 million penalty for child labor violations

One of the nation’s largest food safety sanitation service providers has 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 employer’s payment of civil money penalties is the result of the division’s investigation of Packers Sanitation Services Inc. LTD, based in Kieler, Wisconsin. 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 PSSI $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.

Processors cited, number of minors and penalties assessed include: George’s Inc., Batesville, Arkansas, four minors, $60,552; Tyson Food Inc., Green Forest, Arkansas, six, $90,828; JBS Foods, Greeley, Colorado, four, $60,552; Maple Leaf Farms Inc., Milford, Indiana, two, $30,276; Cargill Inc., Dodge City, Kansas, 26, $393,588; Turkey Valley Farms, Marshall, Minnesota, two, $30,276; Buckhead Meat of Minnesota, St. Cloud, Minnesota, one, $15,138; JBS Foods, Worthington, Minnesota, 22, $333,036; Gibbon Packing Co, Gibbon, Nebraska, one, $15,138; JBS Foods, Grand Island, Nebraska, 27, $408,726; Greater Omaha Packing Co. Inc., Omaha, Nebraska, five, $75,690; Tyson Food Inc., Goodlettsville, Tennessee, one, $15138; and Cargill, Fiona, Texas, one, $15,138.

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, Nebraska, and Worthington, Minnesota, and at Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, Minnesota. 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.

On Feb. 16, 2023, PSSI paid $1.5 million in civil money penalties.

“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.