Fined money concept

One of the nation’s largest food safety sanitation services providers has paid $1.5 million in civil money penalties after the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division found the company employed at least 102 children — from 13 to 17 years of age — in hazardous occupations and had them working overnight shifts at 13 meat processing facilities in eight states.

The employer’s payment of civil money penalties is the result of the division’s investigation of Packers Sanitation Services Inc. LTD, based in Kieler, Wisconsin. The division found that children were working with hazardous chemicals and cleaning meat processing equipment including  back saws, brisket saws and head splitters. Investigators learned at least three minors suffered injuries while working for PSSI. 

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the department assessed PSSI $15,138 for each minor-aged employee who was employed in violation of the law. The amount is the maximum civil money penalty allowed by federal law.

The division began the Packers Sanitation Services Inc. investigation in August 2022, and on Nov. 9, 2022, the Solicitor’s Office filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court of Nebraska based on evidence that the company – which provides cleaning services under contract to some of the nation’s largest meat and poultry producers – had employed at least 31 children, from 13 to 17 years of age, in hazardous occupations to clean dangerous powered equipment during overnight shifts at JBS USA plants in Grand Island, Nebraska, and Worthington, Minnesota, and at Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, Minnesota. U.S. District Court Judge John M. Gerrard responded by issuing a temporary restraining order on Nov. 10, 2022, forbidding the company and its employees from committing child labor violations.

On Dec. 6, 2022, the U.S. District Court of Nebraska entered a consent order and judgment, in which the employer agreed to comply with the FLSA’s child labor provisions in all of its operations nationwide, and to take significant steps to ensure future compliance with the law, including employing an outside compliance specialist.

On Feb. 16, 2023, PSSI paid $1.5 million in civil money penalties.

“The child labor violations in this case were systemic and reached across eight states, and clearly indicate a corporate-wide failure by Packers Sanitation Services at all levels,” explains Principal Deputy Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division Jessica Looman. “These children should never have been employed in meat packing plants and this can only happen when employers do not take responsibility to prevent child labor violations from occurring in the first place.”

“Our investigation found Packers Sanitation Services’ systems flagged some young workers as minors, but the company ignored the flags. When the Wage and Hour Division arrived with warrants, the adults – who had recruited, hired and supervised these children — tried to derail our efforts to investigate their employment practices,” says Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Michael Lazzeri in Chicago.

“The Department of Labor has made it absolutely clear that violations of child labor laws will not be tolerated,” said Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda. “No child should ever be subject to the conditions found in this investigation. The courts have upheld the department’s rightful authority to execute federal court-approved search warrants and compelled this employer to change their hiring practices to ensure compliance with the law. Let this case be a powerful reminder that all workers in the United States are entitled to the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act and that an employer who violates wage laws will be held accountable.”

This fine comes after a series of investigations starting in August 2022, with an official complaint being filed in November of last year. Read more on the timeline here