A company responsible for cleaning meatpacking plants across the country has paid $1.5 million in civil penalties for making 13-year-old children work in dangerous conditions.
The fine, announced Friday by the U.S. Department of Labor, followed an agency investigation into Packers Sanitation Services Inc. at 13 facilities in eight states, including Nebraska, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota and Tennessee. At three meatpacking plants — in Nebraska, Kansas and Minnesota — Packers Sanitation employed more than 20 children.
The department said the children, aged 13 to 17, spent night shifts cleaning equipment such as head splitters, backsaws and chest saws and were exposed to dangerous chemicals such as ammonia. Hazards inside meatpacking plants also include illnesses from exposure to feces and blood, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Three out of at least 102 children sustained injuries while working for Packers Sanitation Services, which is based in Kieler, Wisconsin.
Michael Lazzeri, regional administrator of wages and hours for the department, said the sanitation company ignored reports from its system that the workers were minors.
“When the Wage and Hours Division came with warrants, the adults — who had recruited, hired and supervised these children — tried to derail our efforts to investigate their employment practices,” Lazzeri said in a news release. .
The department’s Wage and Hour division began investigating these issues in August 2022. In November, the department filed a complaint in the US District Court for Nebraska. The agency’s investigation found that the children worked at factories in Gibbon, Grand Island and Omaha. Packers Sanitation Services was fined $408,726 for hiring 27 minors at the JBS Foods Grand Island facility.
Packers was also fined $333,036 for employing children at a JBS plant in Worthington, Minnesota, and $393,588 for employing children at a Cargill plant in Dodge City, Kansas.
The $1.5 million total represents a $15,138 fine for each child employed, the maximum civil monetary penalty allowed under federal law.
In December, the company agreed to comply with labor law and hire a third-party specialist to provide child labor compliance training and monitor facilities for three years, among other requirements, as part of the court’s ruling and order. United States District Court of Nebraska.
The number of children working in violation of child labor laws has been on the rise since 2018, except for 2021 during the pandemic, according to Department of Labor data. Last year, data showed 835 child labor violation cases involving 3,876 children.
The increase in cases comes as some states are considering easing child labor protections.
An Iowa bill would provide exceptions to the state law that prohibits minors between the ages of 14 and 17 from working in more dangerous industries, such as roofing, mining and meatpacking, under the condition that the state Department of workforce and education permits it as part of a “work-based learning or work-related program administered by the school or employer,” the Des Moines Register reported. It would also allow under-16s to drive themselves to work in some circumstances and allow children under 16 to work longer hours. An Iowa Senate subcommittee recommended passage of the bill on February 9.
Another bill, in Minnesota, would lift the ban on 16- and 17-year-olds from working in construction. In Ohio, lawmakers are proposing that minors can work longer hours.