Packers Sanitation Services Inc (PSSI), one of the largest food sanitation companies in the United States, was found to be illegally employing minors in some of its slaughterhouses by the Department of Labor (DOL). 102 children between the ages of 13 and 17 were found to be working in dangerous environments cleaning sharp meat-cutting equipment while using dangerous chemicals. In the investigation held by the DOL, they found that the minors would work night shifts starting at 11 pm to 5 am for five to six days a week in a period spanning months. The working minors would struggle at school due to staying awake the whole night. In some instances, the children would miss school due to injuries suffered at work.
$1.5 Million Fine
PSSI had a civil case launched against it by the DOL, with the DOL succeeding in holding the company responsible for their actions. PSSI will be liable to pay a $1.5 million fine for illegally employing minors.
“The child labor violations, in this case, were systemic and reached across eight states, and clearly indicate a corporate-wide failure by Packers Sanitation Services at all levels,” said Jessica Looman, the DOL’s principal deputy administrator of the wage and hour division.
“These children should never have been employed in meat packing plants and this can only happen when employers do not take responsibility to prevent child labor violations from occurring in the first place.”
PSSI accepted the court’s verdict and released its own statement. “We are pleased to have finalized this settlement figure as part of our previously announced December resolution with the Department of Labor (DOL) that ends their inquiry. We have been crystal clear from the start: Our company has a zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under the age of 18 and fully shares the DOL’s objective of ensuring full compliance at all locations,” the statement from PSSI said.
The statement continued, “We are fully committed to working with DOL to make additional improvements to enforce our prohibition of employing anyone under the age of 18.”
The DOL discovered that the children were employed by PSSI in the following states – Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Texas.
The DOL’s investigation discovered that the PSSI’s systems showed that minors were getting hired but the company willingly ignored this. According to a DOL representative, when the department tried to investigate the matter, it faced resistance from the PSSI representatives who had recruited the minors. The DOL maintains the stance that these representatives from the company intentionally played a hand in hindering the investigation.
Possible Human Trafficking
According to reports from NBC News, lawyers and advocates for the children have alleged some of the minors that had been working in PSSI facilities were unaccompanied migrants who had arrived in the United States from across the southern borders. The Department of Homeland Security has been looking at whether any of the minors were victims of human trafficking. The Department has said they were not directly investigating PSSI.
“It is vital that the federal government not only investigate the violations committed by this private company but in addition that it provides protections for the children who may have been victimized by this country. In particular, both the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Labor should apply policies they have recently announced to ensure these children are not deported from the country into unsafe circumstances, that they receive legal protection to be able to remain in this country and have a stable, safe environment,” said Gregory Chen, senior director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.