The U.S. Department of Labor accused an industrial cleaning company of employing minors for work at three slaughterhouses across the Midwest, including two in Minnesota.
A lawsuit filed in federal court last week claims Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI) employed at least 31 children between the ages of 13 and 17 to fulfill sanitation contracts at JBS USA plants in Grand Island, Neb., and Worthington, Minn., and a Turkey Valley Farms facility in Marshall, Minn.
According to the lawsuit, these minors were often required to work graveyard shifts and clean dangerous equipment with toxic chemicals. A 13-year-old working at the Nebraska plant suffered “a serious chemical burn from PSSI’s chemical cleaners,” the lawsuit says.
Others worked on the “kill floor,” where the actual slaughtering takes place, as they cleaned “meat and bone cutting saws and a grinding machine,” the feds allege. Investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division observed PSSI employees at one plant “working in standing water in a mixture of floating meat parts and soap.”
Investigators learned through interviews with the minors that they all spoke Spanish, the lawsuit explains.
In Worthington and Grand Island, PSSI operates storefront facilities where it recruits locals to “clean nearby meat processing facilities,” according to the lawsuit.
“In summary, PSSI is employing, or has employed, at least twelve 17-year-olds, fourteen 16-year-olds, three 15-year-olds, one 14-year-old, and one 13-year old across three slaughterhouses/meat processing facilities,” the lawsuit says.
This includes a minor who was hired at the age of 16 to work at the Turkey Valley Farms facility in Marshall, according to the complaint.
“Minor Child S worked from 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. during the school year and 8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. during the summer cleaning the meat grinders with a pressure hose,” the lawsuit says.
Investigators also claim in the lawsuit that they found a 16-year-old working overnight shifts “in the Ham Department” in Worthington. The minor was allegedly working around equipment “such as the JBT’s MEPSCO UltraCAT Injector, which injects water into the product, and a ‘combo dumper’ that could lift up to 3,000 pounds of meat.”
Another minor allegedly began working at the Worthington plant at the age of 15.
“Minor Child P stated they work on the kill floor and [clean] the ‘conveyer belt, machines that process the meat,’ using a pressure hose, and ‘pick[ed] up meat from the floor,” the lawsuit says.
According to the Department of Labor, federal law prohibits “oppressive child labor” and bars minors from working with or cleaning hazardous equipment, including power-driven meat processing machines.
The Department of Labor asked a federal court to issue a temporary restraining order and injunction to stop PSSI from employing minor-aged workers. The court has ordered PSSI to comply with the investigation and cease any illegal employment practices, according to NBC. A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 23.
A PSSI spokesperson told NBC it “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.”
The company uses the federal E-Verify system to vet new hires, according to the spokesperson.
“While rogue individuals could of course seek to engage in fraud or identity theft, we are confident in our company’s strict compliance policies and will defend ourselves vigorously against these claims,” he said.