Federal investigators have accused an industrial cleaning company of employing dozens of children to clean slaughterhouses during their graveyard shift. According to a Tuesday morning federal court filing, the U.S. Department of Labor has settled the allegations.
Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (or PSSI) will review and improve its policies and training materials, and hire a third party consultant to conduct quarterly child labor compliance training and oversee the company’s compliance over three years. The company will include a child labor provision in all contracts it has with clients. It will also notify the Labor Department of how many employees it terminated due to its compliance with child labour laws.
According to a previously unseen local police report, allegations of child labor at a Grand Island slaughterhouse, Nebraska date back to 2016, according NBC News. According to the report, an officer was summoned to Grand Island’s middle school to examine a 14-year old girl who had suffered “injuries” to her hands.
Grand Island Police Department spokesperson said that injuries occurred due to the child’s work at PSSI. The matter was referred by the local prosecutor. However, the guardian was not charged.
A spokesperson for Packers Sanitation Services Inc., a Wisconsin-based company, stated that the consent decree was reached with the feds. “We are happy to have reached a resolution [with the Department of Labor (DOL] inquiry into this matter.” Since the beginning, we have made it clear that PSSI has a zero tolerance policy on the employment of anyone younger than 18 years old and supports the DOL’s goal of ensuring that this policy is implemented at all local plants.
In the statement, the company stated that it will strengthen its existing policies to verify employees’ identities. These include mandatory use of the government’s E-verify system to hire new workers, extensive training and biometrics.
This resolution comes just a month after The Department of Labor accused the company of putting at least 31 children in graveyard shifts in three states’ slaughterhouses. They were to be responsible for cleaning the machines and killing floors. According to the complaint, at least three children suffered chemical burns from working in the slaughterhouses.
According to court documents, another 19 minors were identified by the Labor Department as PSSI employees at two additional facilities. This brings the total number of minors employed by the company to at most 50, at five locations in three states.
According to the federal complaint, the company was accused of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. This law prohibits child labor and prevents minors from being employed in hazardous jobs. Child Labor Regulations of the Department of Labor declares many positions in meatpacking and slaughterhouse facilities as dangerous for minors.
The company denied that it had ever hired children, but it did admit to it in court filings. They attributed the incident to “rogue people” who presented false identification with Social Security numbers which were verified by E-Verify.
Federal officials stated in a complaint that they filed last month that initial evidence suggests that the company may also be employing more children at similar locations across the country.
A spokesperson for the Department of Labor stated that its investigation is ongoing.
PSSI employs 17,000 people at 500 locations across the country. Blackstone, a private equity firm, owns the company. It took over the company in 2018.