US DOL Seeks to Stop Child Labor Violations
Department finds 31 children performing hazardous jobs and working overnight shifts.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently announced that it has asked a federal court to issue a nationwide temporary restraining order and injunction against Packers Sanitation Services Inc. LTD (PSSI)–one of the nation’s leading providers of food safety sanitation–to stop the company from illegally employing dozens of minor-aged workers.
According to The Washington Post, a federal judge on November 10 granted a preliminary injunction ordering the company to immediately stop using “oppressive child labor” and comply with DOL’s demands for information. DOL stated it would continue to investigate PSSI’s labor practices while the court decisions are pending.
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.
Filed in the U.S. District Court for Nebraska in Lincoln, the complaint was prompted by an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division, which discovered that PSSI had employed at least 31 children from 13 to 17 years of age in hazardous occupations. The jobs performed by the children included cleaning dangerous powered equipment during overnight shifts to fulfill sanitation contracts at JBS USA plants in Grand Island, Nebraska, and Worthington, Minnesota, and at Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, Minnesota. Investigators also learned that several of the employed minors, including a 13-year-old employee, suffered caustic chemical burns and other injuries on the job.
The investigation at PSSI began on Aug. 24, 2022, when the division received credible information alleging the company assigned minors to work in hazardous occupation. The division executed warrants for the company’s operations at the three plants, its local offices and at PSSI’s Keiler, Wisconsin, corporate office. In its filing, the department accused PSSI of interfering with its investigation by intimidating minor workers to stop them from cooperating with investigators. PSSI also allegedly deleted and manipulated employment files.
“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 Christine Heri, regional solicitor of labor in Chicago.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, minors under the age of 14 are prohibited from working. Under the same act, 14- and 15-year-old employees must not work later than 9 p.m. from June 1 through Labor Day and not past 7 p.m. for the remainder of the year. Additionally, minors cannot work more than three hours on a school day, eight hours on a non-school day, or more than 18 hours per week. The law also prohibits minors from operating motor vehicles, forklifts, and other hazardous equipment.
“Federal laws were established decades ago to prevent employers from profiting by putting children in harm’s way,” said Michael Lazzeri, wage and hour regional administrator 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.”
To assist employers in avoiding violations and to inform young workers and their parents, the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division has published Seven Child Labor Best Practices for Employers. For confidential compliance assistance, employees and employers can call the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243).