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In a lawsuit filed in federal court, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) said that children as young as 13 were illegally employed by one of the nation’s largest food safety providers, Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI). The company allegedly hired over two dozen kids to clean up kill floors and slaughterhouses.
According to court documents, some workers suffered injuries — including chemical burns. Investigators said one 14-year-old worked shifts between 11 pm-5 am, reportedly cleaning meat-cutting machines up to 18 hours a week before going to school, falling asleep in classes or skipping them altogether.
Additionally, the Labor Dept. alleged that PSSI interfered with the investigation, intimidating workers and discouraging cooperation with investigators. The agency stated that company employees also changed or even deleted employment files.
Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Michael Lazzeri said in the DOL announcement that in taking “advantage of children, exposing them to workplace dangers — and interfering with a federal investigation,” PSSI showed “flagrant disregard for the law and for the well-being of young workers.”
Citing previous investigations into worker safety at other companies that endangered workers during the coronavirus pandemic, the Washington Post noted that this puts “another harsh spotlight on the meatpacking industry, which has been criticized for exposing workers to dangerous conditions that have led to severe injuries and deaths.”
Chicago-based Regional Solicitor of Labor Christine Heri said in the DOL release that “The Department of Labor will use every available legal resource to protect workers – regardless of their age – and hold to account those employers who mistakenly believe they can violate the Fair Labor Standards Act, obstruct federal investigations, and retaliate against workers who assert their rights.”
The Department of Labor filed its civil suit in the Nebraska U.S. District Court on November 9, 2022.
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