Home Local News MN Labor Department finds children cleaning local meatpacking plants

MN Labor Department finds children cleaning local meatpacking plants

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The Labor Department discovered that one of the largest food safety companies in the United States illegally employed more than two dozen children in at least three meatpacking plants. Several of these children suffered chemical burns from the corrosive cleaners they were required to use during overnight shifts.

Wednesday, the agency filed an injunction against Packers Sanitation Services in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska. Judge John. M. Gerrard immediately issued the injunction on Thursday, ordering the corporation to cease “using onerous child labor” and to cooperate with a Labor Department inquiry into the practice.

Packers, a cleaning and sanitation firm headquartered in Kieler, Wisconsin, does contract services at hundreds of slaughterhouses and meatpacking facilities around the nation.

The Labor Department discovered that at least 31 children ages 13 to 17 were employed by Packers to clean hazardous equipment with corrosive cleaners during overnight shifts at three slaughtering and meatpacking facilities: a Turkey Valley Farms plant in Marshall, Minnesota, and JBS USA plants in Grand Island, Nebraska, and Worthington, Minnesota.

According to court filings, their duties included cleaning kill floors, meat- and bone-cutting saws, grinding equipment, and electric knives. According to authorities, the boys and girls did not speak English well and were interrogated mainly in Spanish.

The Labor Department determined that many juveniles, including a 13-year-old, sustained chemical burns and other injuries while working by the firm. One 14-year-old who worked from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., five to six nights a week, sustained chemical burns while cleaning meat-cutting equipment. According to the student’s school records, he fell asleep in class or skipped school due to his employment at the company.

According to court records, the Labor Department suspects that Packers may employ minors under the same circumstances at other factories.

In addition, the Labor Department accused the corporation of interfering with the inquiry by harassing lesser employees to dissuade them from collaborating, as well as destroying and modifying employment information.

Packers said in a statement that it “has an unequivocal company-wide ban on employing anybody under the age of 18 and zero tolerance for any breach of this policy – period.” The business refuted the Labor Department’s claim that it was not complying with the inquiry.

Turkey Valley Farms said in a statement that it took the claims “extremely seriously” and was “reviewing the situation internally.”

“We expect all contractors to share our commitment to the health and safety of anybody working in our facilities and to adhere to these standards that promote a healthy work environment as well as all relevant federal and state labor regulations,” the business added. It said that it will “take all relevant steps” in response to the Labor Department’s findings.

Friday, JBS USA did not reply quickly to a request for comment.

Michael Lazzeri, the regional administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division in Chicago, said in a statement, “Federal rules were created decades ago to prohibit businesses from profiting by placing children in harm’s way.” “Taking advantage of minors, exposing them to occupational risks, and interfering with a federal investigation exemplify Packers Sanitation Services Inc.’s brazen disrespect for the law and the safety of young employees.”

Child labor laws prevent minors under the age of 14 from working and restrict 14- and 15-year-olds from working beyond 9 p.m. during the summer and 7 p.m. during the school year. Additionally, they are not permitted to work more than three hours on school days, eight hours on non-school days, or 18 hours each week. Minors are prohibited from operating motor cars, forklifts, and other dangerous machinery.

In August, the Labor Department initiated an investigation into Packers after receiving a reference from a law enforcement agency alleging that the firm assigned dangerous employment to kids. The agency said that investigators conducted surveillance, obtained warrants for the company’s functioning, subpoenaed school documents, and interviewed “several underage children.”

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