Company that cleans JBS plant gets federal child labor order

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: Dec. 7, 2022 at 4:35 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KSNB) - A federal judge has ordered the company which cleans the JBS packing plant in Grand Island to make changes to ensure that it no longer uses child labor.

The U.S. Department of Labor last month said Packer Sanitation Services, Inc., 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.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in Lincoln ordered PSSI to stop violating child labor laws, to improve its personnel record-keeping and to hire a compliance officer to make sure the company follows federal labor laws. The order appears to close the case against PSSI unless there are further violations. The order did not include a fine or other sanctions.

The order requires the compliance officer to conduct quarterly training sessions for the next three years, report any future violations, and to make unannounced visits to PSSI client sites to make sure there are no further violations.

PSSI employees in Grand Island work at the JBS meat packing plant. Last month’s court filing said minor children had 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 last month, 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 Aug. 24, 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 Sept. 2, 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 at the Grand Island JBS facility, and one 13-year-old had suffered a serious chemical burn.

On Oct. 13, 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.

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