The Department of Labor Has Discovered 31 Children Working as Cleaners at Meatpacking Facilities

Children Working as Cleaners at Meatpacking Facilities: The Department of Labor said that Packers Sanitation Services, a food safety contractor, employed minors as young as 13 to clean potentially hazardous equipment during midnight shifts. Many got chemical burns.

The Use of Children as Cleaners in the Meat Industry

The Labor Department found that one of the largest food safety companies in the United States had illegally employed more than two dozen children in at least three meatpacking plants, where several of them had suffered chemical burns from the corrosive cleaners they were required to use on overnight shifts.

On Wednesday, the Department of Justice requested an injunction against Packers Sanitation Services in the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska. On Thursday, Judge John. M. Gerrard issued the requested injunction. According to the order, the corporation must cease “employing onerous child labor” and cooperate with a Labor Department inquiry into the matter.

Packers, a Kieler, Wisconsin-based cleaning and sanitation firm, has contracts with several facilities around the country that slaughter and process meat.

After an investigation by the Labor Department, Packers was found to have used at least 31 minors (aged 13 to 17) to clean potentially hazardous equipment using corrosive cleaners during overnight shifts at three slaughtering and meatpacking facilities (a Turkey Valley Farms plant in Marshall, Minnesota, and JBS USA plants in Grand Island, Nebraska, and Worthington, Minnesota).

According to the evidence presented in court, their duties included cleaning kill floors, meat, and bone-cutting saws, grinding equipment, and electric knives. Investigators stated the group of boys and girls they examined spoke little to no English and had most of their conversations in Spanish.

According to the Labor Department’s investigation, numerous young workers at the firm, including one who was only 13 at the time of his or her injury, suffered from caustic chemical burns and other ailments. Chemical burns were sustained by one 14-year-old who worked from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., five or six days a week, cleaning machinery used to chop meat. According to attendance records, the kid missed or slept off during class because of their plant work.

Children Working as Cleaners at Meatpacking Facilities
Evidence presented in court suggests that the Labor Department suspects Packers of using underage labor at other factories. The Labor Department has also claimed that the corporation tampered with the inquiry by threatening young workers to prevent them from providing cooperation and by deleting and altering employment records.

Packers “has an unequivocal company-wide restriction against the employment of anybody under the age of 18 and zero tolerance for any breach of that policy, period,” it stated in a statement. When accused of not helping with the inquiry by the Labor Department, the corporation said it was not.

Turkey Valley Farms sent a statement saying it was “reviewing the situation internally” and taking the claims “extremely seriously.”

“We expect all contractors to share our commitment to the health and safety of any persons working in our facilities and to adhere to these standards that establish a safe work environment and to all applicable federal and state labor regulations,” the business added. In addition, it stated that it will “take all required measures” in response to the findings of the Labor Department’s inquiry.

On Friday, we reached out to JBS USA for comment but did not receive a prompt reply.

Michael Lazzeri, the regional administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division in Chicago, said in a statement, “Federal rules were created decades ago to prohibit businesses from profiting by placing children in harm’s way.” Packers Sanitation Services Inc.’s “flagrant contempt for the law and the well-being of young workers” is evident in its “exploitation of minors, exposure of youngsters to job risks, and interference with a federal inquiry.”

Minors under the age of 14 are not allowed to work, and those between 14 and 15 are not permitted to work past 9 p.m. in the summer and 7 p.m. during the school year due to child labor regulations. In addition, they can’t put in more than three hours a day, eight hours a day, or 18 hours a week of employment. Young people are not allowed to drive motorcars, forklifts, or any other potentially dangerous machinery.

In August, after receiving a report from law enforcement, the Labor Department launched an investigation into Packers for allegedly using juveniles in unsafe labor conditions. The agency claimed that investigators had questioned “several underage children,” performed surveillance of the business, obtained warrants to monitor its activities, requested school records, and conducted several interviews with employees of the firm.

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