Dozens of kids found working illegally at meatpacking plants in 2 Midwest states, regulators say

LINCOLN, Neb. — A sanitation services contractor servicing three meatpacking plants in two midwestern states is under fire after federal regulators alleged it employed more than two dozen children, several of whom were seriously injured amid hazardous working conditions.

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According to The Wall Street Journal, the allegations prompted the U.S. Department of Labor to file a federal complaint in Nebraska requesting a nationwide temporary restraining order and injunction against Packers Sanitation Services Inc., a food-safety company that provides contract sanitation services.

The complaint alleged that at least 31 children, some as young as 13, were illegally employed to clean Packers’ meat-processing facilities in both Nebraska and Minnesota. Several of the minors suffered chemical burns from the corrosive cleaners they were required to use, The New York Times reported.

According to court documents, the Labor Department believes Packers may employ minor children under similar conditions at other plants, the newspaper reported.

“(Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh’s) investigators interviewed children who reported working for Packers Sanitation under the age of 16,” the Labor Department wrote in its motion. “Some children reported working long hours or overnight shifts. Other children reported working on power-driven machines or on the kill floor.”

According to court documents, specific tasks required of the children included cleaning kill floors, meat- and bone-cutting saws, grinding machines and electric knives. The mix of boys and girls were not fluent English speakers and were interviewed mostly in Spanish, investigators confirmed to the Times.

A Labor Department spokesperson confirmed to the Journal that U.S. District Judge John Gerrard in Lincoln, Nebraska, granted the temporary restraining order Thursday.

The injunction compels Packers and any partners to comply with investigators and refrain from concealing relevant evidence until a Nov. 23 hearing, The Hill reported.

According to the Journal, the facilities named in the complaint include two JBS USA Holdings Inc. plants in Grand Island, Nebraska, and Worthington, Minnesota, as well as a third owned by Turkey Valley Farms LLC in Marshall, Minnesota.

“Federal laws were established decades ago to prevent employers from profiting by putting children in harm’s way,” Michael Lazzeri, a wage and hour regional administrator in Chicago, said in a Labor Department statement issued Wednesday.

“Taking advantage of children, exposing them to workplace dangers—and interfering with a federal investigation—demonstrates Packers Sanitation Services Inc.’s flagrant disregard for the law and for the well-being of young workers,” he added.

As per the Times: “Child labor rules prohibit minors under the age of 14 from working and prohibit 14- and 15-year-olds from working later than 9 p.m. over the summer and past 7 p.m. during the school year. They are also prohibited from working more than three hours on school days, more than eight hours on non-school days and more than 18 hours per week. Minors cannot operate motor vehicles, forklifts or other hazardous equipment.”

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