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A federal court has issued an injunction against a Wisconsin-based sanitation service company after it was sued by the U.S. Department of Labor for using children to clean two southern Minnesota meat plants.

Packers Sanitation Services (PSSI), one of the nation's largest providers of food safety sanitation services, entered an agreement to implement multiple changes as part of the injunction approved this week.

The company worked as a cleaning subcontractor at a JBS meat processing plant in Worthington, Minnesota and Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, Minnesota. A labor department investigation found at least 31 children between the ages of 13-17 worked overnight shifts doing hazardous jobs, such as cleaning dangerous equipment. Another JBS plant in Nebraska was also included in the federal investigation.

The investigation revealed that the Worthington location had at least one employee under the age of 16 working overnight shifts and at least one employee under the age of 18 working "on the killing floor" and cleaning machines including meat and bone-cutting saws and a grinding machine during overnight shifts." The Marshall location was also found to have minors working overnight shifts as well.

The Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits minors under the age of 14 from working and 14- and 15-year-old employees from working later than 9 p.m. from June 1 through Labor Day and past 7 p.m. the remainder of the year. Minors at this age aren't allowed to work longer than three hours on a school day, eight hours on a non-school day or more than 18 hours per week.

The sanitation service is also accused of deleting or manipulating employee documents and used intimidation tactics to prevent minors from cooperating in the federal investigation.

The Department of Labor determined at least 50 children in total were hired by the sanitation service. The agency said the number of children could potentially increase as the investigation continues.

The conditions agreed to by the company include:

  • Review existing policies and training materials for compliance with child labor laws and ensure all employees engaged in the hiring and onboarding of workers follows all applicable child labor laws.
  • Hire a third-party consultant or compliance specialist within 90 days to provide quarterly child labor compliance training to all management personnel for a period of three years and annually thereafter.
  • Work with the compliance specialist, prior to any training, to ensure company procedures comply with the FLSA's child labor provisions.
  • Allow the compliance specialist to monitor and audit the company's compliance with the child labor provisions for three years including periodic, unannounced site visits of at least six facilities on a quarterly basis.
  • Include a child labor provision in its contract template provided to clients, with details of the compliance specialist provided so any concerns over child labor can be reported
  • Impose sanctions, including termination and/or suspension, of any management personnel responsible for child labor violations after the order goes into effect.

“By entering the temporary injunction and the consent order and judgment, the federal court has made it absolutely clear to Packers Sanitation Services Inc. and other employers that they will be held accountable for ensuring compliance with child labor laws and policing their supervising employees to uphold the law,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Christine Heri in Chicago.

The investigation remains ongoing.

Bring Me The News reached out to Turkey Valley Farms and JBS for comment on Wednesday.

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