A sanitation contractor employed dozens of children at meatpacking plants in Nebraska and Minnesota, according to the Labor Department. Some of the roles included in the hiring process include dangerous roles.
The children were working at plants owned by meatpacking company JBS and the poultry processor Turkey Valley Farms.
The Labor Department is sought an injunction in Nebraska federal court against Packer’s Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI), alleging at least 31 kids had worked for the company in “oppressive child labor.” The children, ranging in age from 13 to 17, were hired to do dangerous tasks such as cleaning hazardous equipment during overnight shifts before heading to school in the morning.
Their jobs included cleaning kill floors, meat- and bone-cutting saws, grinding machines and electric knives, according to the court documents. The children, both boys and girls, were not fluent English speakers and were interviewed mostly in Spanish, investigators stated.
The agency has asked a judge to issue a temporary restraining order which would prevent PSSI from hiring minors while it continues to investigate as well as require the company to comply with a Labor Department investigation into the practice.
The order also includes the horrifying details that the health and safety of these minors was completely compromised. “... PSSI is directly imperiling the health and well-being of minors who went from their overnight shifts cleaning dangerous machines with caustic cleaners straight to their middle school,” the injunction reads.
“Minor Child B, fourteen, fell asleep in class, while Minor Child P, fifteen, left their interview with [Department of Labor] Investigators because they had to “go home and get ready for school.”
To add to the horror, Department of Labor investigators also learned that several minors employed by the meat packing company — including one 13-year-old child — suffered caustic chemical burns and other injuries,” the Labor Department said in a press release.
In its filing, the Labor Department also alleged that the company violated the labor laws by “intimidating minor workers to stop them from cooperating with investigators.” They also accuse PSSI changing and deleting employment files after learning they were being investigated.
Investigators began their inquiries into PSSI back in August after receiving a tip from local law enforcement about possible child labor law violations at a plant in Grand Island, Nebraska.
After more investigation, the Department of Labor “witnessed multiple workers entering the JBS facility in Grand Island, Nebraska, during the PSSI overnight cleaning shift who appeared to be minors based on their stature and appearance,” according to the court filing.
As for PSSI, they are denying all claims. Packers “has an absolute company-wide prohibition against the employment of anyone under the age of 18 and zero tolerance for any violation of that policy — period,” it said in a statement. The company also denied accusations that they were not cooperating with the Department of Labor’s investigation.