Packers Sanitation Services in Grand Island accused of ‘Oppressive Child Labor’ violations

A photo included in the Department of Labor Court filings of a PSSI employee working in the...
A photo included in the Department of Labor Court filings of a PSSI employee working in the Grand Island JBS plant(Department of Labor)
Published: Nov. 11, 2022 at 11:49 AM CST
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Grand Island, Neb. (KSNB) - The U.S. District Court in Lincoln has issued a nationwide temporary restraining order against Packers Sanitation Services Inc. LTD after the Department of Labor said the company had at least 31 children between 13 and 17 years old working in “hazardous occupations”. This allegedly included illegally working overnight shifts in multiple plants including the JBS facility in Grand Island, according to a news release and court filing by the Department of Labor.

PSSI employees in Grand Island work at the JBS meat packing plant, where the court filing says minor children have been working overnight cleaning shifts. Minors were also employed by PSSI to “clean the killing floor” and “clean power-driven machines, including meat and bone cutting saws”, according to the filing. One 13-year-old minor “suffered a serious chemical burn from PSSI’s chemical cleaners.”

PSSI employs about 190 workers at JBS in Grand Island, including 64 on the kill floor, according to the Department of Labor. In a statement to KSNB Local4, Michael Koenig, Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer for JBS said, “We take seriously the allegations against PSSI, which, if true, represent a clear violation of our ethical policies. We are immediately launching an independent, third-party audit at all of our facilities to thoroughly evaluate this situation. JBS has zero tolerance for child labor, discrimination or unsafe working conditions for anyone working in our facilities. We expect and contractually require our partners to adhere to the highest ethical principles as outlined in our Business Associate Code of Conduct.”

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, children 14 and 15 years old can be employed outside school hours, but only in non-manufacturing and non-hazardous jobs for limited periods of time.

According to the Documents, the Department of Labor began an investigation on August 24th, after a law enforcement tip. The Wage and Hour Division “conducted surveillance, subpoenaed school records, and interviewed confidential sources about minors working overnight shifts to clean the meat processing facility”.

On September 2nd, they witnessed multiple people who appeared to be minors entering the JBS facility in Grand Island to work overnight shifts. Using school records and confidential sources, they determined three minors worked overnight shifts for PSSI and the Grand Island JBS facility, and one 13-year-old had suffered a serious chemical burn.

On October 13th, WHD executed a warrant for PSSI’s operations at the JBS facility in Grand Island and observed working conditions during the overnight shift. During the tour “PSSI managers repeatedly instructed WHD Investigators not to take pictures and videos and to delete any photos or video collected, despite the warrant giving WHD Investigators express authority to collect such evidence”, according to the filing.

The documents also say that PSSI attempted to obstruct employee interviews in Grand Island, and denied investigators access to incident/accident reports at the facility. A WHD investigator also observed a supervisor “archiving and deleting WhatsApp messages on their phone”, after confirming the phone was used for PSSI-related work matters.

WHD investigators interviewed 15 minor children who worked at PSSI as part of their investigation.

“Federal laws were established decades ago to prevent employers from profiting by putting children in harm’s way,” said Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Michael Lazzeri in Chicago. “Taking advantage of children, exposing them to workplace dangers – and interfering with a federal investigation – demonstrates Packers Sanitation Services Inc.’s flagrant disregard for the law and for the well-being of young workers.”

The Department of Labor says they also found violations at meat packing establishments in Worthington, Minnesota and Marshall, Minnesota.

The temporary restraining order was granted Thursday, ordering PSSI to stop employing oppressive child labor and to comply with the Department of Labor’s investigation. A hearing on a preliminary injunction is scheduled for November 23rd at the Federal Courthouse in Lincoln.