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EXCLUSIVE
U.S. news

The company accused of employing dozens of minors in slaughterhouses on the graveyard shift reaches agreement with the feds

Allegations of child labor at a slaughterhouse in Grand Island, Nebraska, date back to 2016, according to a previously unreported local police report obtained by NBC News.
PSSI employees at the Grand Island JBS plant.
PSSI employees at the Grand Island JBS plant.U.S. Department of Labor

An industrial cleaning company accused by federal investigators of hiring dozens of children to clean slaughterhouses during the graveyard shift has resolved the allegations with the U.S. Department of Labor, according to a federal court filing filed Tuesday morning. 

As part of the consent order, Packers Sanitation Services Inc., or PSSI, will review and enhance its existing policies and training materials and hire a third-party consultant to conduct “quarterly child labor compliance training” and monitor the company’s compliance for three years. The company will also provide a new child labor provision in its contracts with clients and will notify the Labor Department as to how many employees it terminated as a result of its compliance with child labor laws.

Allegations of child labor at a slaughterhouse in Grand Island, Nebraska, date back to 2016, according to a previously unreported local police report obtained by NBC News. The report stated that an officer was called to the local middle school because a 14-year-old girl had “injuries to her hands.” The document shows that the allegations were investigated as “child abuse.”

A spokesperson for the Grand Island Police Department said that the injuries were from the child’s work at PSSI. The matter was referred to the local prosecutor and the guardian of the child was investigated but not charged.

Michael Lazzeri, regional administrator for the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division in Chicago, said the division will complete its investigation and "ensure children are not working in violation of federal laws at this company or at others,." Lazzeri said child labor violations are up by 50% since 2018. “This case should serve as a stark reminder for all employers that the U.S. Department of Labor will not tolerate violations of the law, especially those that put vulnerable children at risk.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin-based company Packers Sanitation Services Inc. said about the consent decree with the feds: “We are pleased to have reached a resolution with the Department of Labor (DOL) inquiry into this matter. We have been crystal clear from the start: PSSI has a zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under the age of 18 and fully shares DOL’s objective of ensuring it is followed to the letter at all local plants.” 

The statement adds that the company will further strengthen its current policies to confirm employees’ identities, which they said include “mandatory use of the government’s E-verify system for new hires, extensive training, multiple audits, and biometrics.”

The resolution comes about a month after the Department of Labor accused the company of employing at least 31 children on graveyard shifts in slaughterhouses in three states, where they were tasked with cleaning the killing floors and various machines — including meat and bone cutting saws and a grinding machine — according to the complaint, which noted that several children began their shifts at the facilities at 11 p.m. and worked until 5, 6 or 7 a.m, with some working up to six or seven days a week. At least three chiildren suffered chemical burns as a result of working in the slaughterhouses, according to that complaint.

According to court documents, the Labor Department identified as of Monday another 19 minors who PSSI employed at two additional facilities since last month’s filing, bringing the total number of minors who have worked for the company to at least 50 at five plants in three states.

Federal officials argued the company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, which prohibits “oppressive child labor” and minors from working in any kind of hazardous employment, according to the complaint from last month. The Department of Labor’s Child Labor Regulations designates many roles in slaughterhouse and meatpacking facilities as hazardous for minors.

In court filings, the company did not deny hiring children but attributed it to “rogue individuals” who presented fake identification with Social Security numbers that were verified by the federal government’s E-Verify system. 

In their complaint filed last month, federal officials said initial evidence indicates the company may also employ more children under similar conditions at 400 other sites across the country.

A spokesperson for the Department of Labor said its investigation continues.

PSSI has 17,000 employees at 500 locations nationwide. The company is owned by the private equity firm Blackstone, which took it over in 2018.