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Feds investigate company hired by Minn. slaughterhouses for exposing children to hazardous work conditions

The Department found 31 children, reportedly employed by Packers Sanitation Services Inc., at 3 separate processing plants, including Worthington's JBS and Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall.

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Worthington's JBS pork processing plant, the community's largest employer with approximately 2,200 workers, is shown April 14, 2020. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)
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LINCOLN, Nebraska — The U.S. Department of Labor is seeking a nationwide court injunction to stop one of the nation's leading food safety sanitation providers from illegally employing dozens of minor-aged workers at processing facilities — including at JBS in Worthington, Minnesota.

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The U.S. Department of Labor asked a federal court to issue a nationwide temporary restraining order and injunction against Packers Sanitation Services Inc., following an investigation by the Department’s Wage and Hour Division.

According to the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for Nebraska , PSSI had employed at least 31 children — from 13 to 17 years of age — in hazardous occupations. The jobs performed by children included cleaning dangerous powered equipment during overnight shifts to fulfill sanitation contracts at JBS USA plants in Grand Island, Nebraska, and Worthington, and at Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, Minnesota.

Investigators also reported that several minors employed by PSSI — including a 13-year-old — suffered caustic chemical burns and other injuries.

In its 61-page filing, the department alleges the food sanitation contractor interfered with an investigation by intimidating minor workers to stop them from cooperating with investigators. PSSI also allegedly deleted and manipulated employment files.

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“The Department of Labor will use every available legal resource to protect workers — regardless of their age — and hold to account those employers who mistakenly believe they can violate the Fair Labor Standards Act, obstruct federal investigations, and retaliate against workers who assert their rights,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Christine Heri, in Chicago.

The investigation at PSSI began on Aug. 24, when the division received credible information alleging the company assigned minors to work in hazardous occupations. On Oct. 13, warrants were executed for the company’s operations at the Nebraska and Minnesota facilities and PSSI’s corporate office in Keiler, Wisconsin.

According to the complaint, the Wage and Hour Division toured parts of the JBS Grand Island and Worthington facilities during the PSSI overnight shift, documenting working conditions and interviewing PSSI employees, including many minor children.

“Federal laws were established decades ago to prevent employers from profiting by putting children in harm’s way,” said Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Michael Lazzeri in Chicago. “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.”

PSSI provides contract sanitation services, chemical innovations, pest prevention and other solutions for about 700 food processing facilities nationwide and employs about 17,000 workers.

Through interviews conducted with minor children during the execution of the warrant, the Wage and Hour Division reported that PSSI is employing, or has employed, at least a dozen 17-year-olds, 14 individuals who are 16 years old, three 15-year-olds, one 14-year-old, and one 13-year-old across three processing facilities. Many, if not all, of these children were employed in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

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Emma McNamee joined The Globe team in October 2021 as a reporter covering Crime & Courts, Politics, and the City beats. Born and raised in Duluth, Minn., McNamee left her hometown to attend school in Chicago at Columbia College. She graduated in 2021 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism, with a concentration in News & Feature Writing and a minor in Creative Writing.
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