A sanitation company has employed underage children at its Nebraska plant, and the Department of Labor says to stop.
A complaint filed by Secretary of Labor, Martin J. Walsh, seeks an injunction to “restrain Defendant and its agents, from continuing to engage in oppressive child labor” in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
PSSI – Packers Sanitation Services, Inc. – employs minor children at the JBS establishment in Grand Island, Nebraska to work overnight cleaning shifts, the complaint alleges. At least thirty-one children between the ages of 13 and 17 were responsible for cleaning hazardous equipment late at night at the slaughtering and meat packing plant.
Investigators also learned that several minors employed by PSSI – including a 13-year-old – suffered chemical burns and other injuries. According to the filing, the children were threatened if they went to authorities, HuffPost reported.
In its filing, the Labor Department also alleged that PSSI violated the law by “intimidating minor workers to stop them from cooperating with investigators.” They say the company “manipulated and deleted” employment files.
Around August 24th, the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Dept. of Labor opened its investigation after being alerted by local law enforcement.
Wage and Hour’s investigation revealed that PSSI employs minors at a slaughtering and meat packing establishment owned and/or operated by JBS in Grand Island, Nebraska. Wage and Hour’s investigation found that PSSI employed a minor under the age of 14 at the JBS facility and employs minors under the age of 16 at the JBS facility during overnight shifts to work more than 3 hours in a day and more than 18 hours in a week while school is in session. Wage and Hour found that PSSI employs minors under the age of 18 whose job is to clean the killing floor. Wage and Hour also found that PSSI employs minors at the JBS slaughtering and meat packing establishment in Grand Island, Nebraska under the age of 18 who clean power-driven machines, including meat and bone cutting saws.
The federal investigation also discovered that PSSI illegally employs underage children at two Minnesota plants. Congress enacted the FSLA to protect workers by setting minimum labor standards and prevent “oppressive child labor.”
Illegally employing minors – and then putting up roadblocks to investigating the illegal behavior – perpetuates oppressive child labor, deters employees from asserting their rights, precludes the government from vindicating those rights, and undermines the public’s interest in effective enforcement of the Act, the complaint stated.
In September investigators staked out the Nebraska facility, and according to reports, “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.” In October, a federal warrant was executed after agents conducted overnight surveillance at another JBS-owned plant in Worthington, Minnesota confirmed it too was violating child labor laws.
The minor employees would generally work the third shift – from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. – five or six days a week.
Cleaning machines are used to cut meat on the kill floor and handle toxic chemicals. A 14-year-old employee – known as Minor Child B – would work the overnight shift up to six days a week. The Grand Island, Nebraska Middle School student, would reportedly fall asleep in class. The FSLA mandates that 14-year-olds work no more than three hours a day – or 18 hours a week when school is in session. With restrictions on the type of work allowed.
PSSI has also been active in anti-union activities, reportedly hiring consultants to keep employees from joining the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
JBS, a Brazilian company with meatpacking plants around the country, also sells products pre-packaged foods under the Hans, Primo, Gourmet and Country Pride brands.
Read the Dept. of Labor’s complaint here.
Original reporting by Dave Jamieson at HuffPost.
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