WI-based meat plant cleaning service fined $1.5M for hiring minors

Associated Press
Packers Sanitation Services Inc., or PSSI, one of the country's largest food safety cleaning service providers employed more than 100 children as young as 13 in dangerous jobs at 13 meat processing plants in eight states, including JBS, the U.S. Department of Labor said Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.

MINNEAPOLIS – One of the country’s largest cleaning services for food processing companies employed more than 100 children in dangerous jobs at 13 meatpacking plants across the country, the U.S. Department of Labor said Friday as it announced over $1.5 million in civil penalties.

The investigation into Packers Sanitation Services Inc., or PSSI, began last summer. Department officials searched three meatpacking plants owned by JBS USA and Turkey Valley Farms in Nebraska and Minnesota, and found 31 underage workers as young as 13. They also searched PSSI’s headquarters in Kieler, Wisconsin. Underage workers were found at plants in eight states.

The department went on to review records for 55 locations where PSSI provided cleaning services and found even more violations, involving children ages 13 to 17. The agency obtained a temporary restraining order in November and a permanent injunction in December, when PSSI entered into a consent judgment that committed the company to no longer employ minors illegally.

Over the past three years, children were found to be using caustic cleaning chemicals and cleaning 'dangerous power-driven equipment, like skull-splitters and razor-sharp bone saws,' Jessica Looman, principal deputy administrator of the department’s Wage and Hour Division, told reporters.

At least three of those minors, including a 13-year-old, suffered burns from the chemicals used for cleaning at the JBS plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, officials said.

The fine PSSI paid on Thursday, $15,138 for each minor, is the maximum allowed under federal law. But investigators believe the company actually employed many more than the 102 children they verified. Under the consent judgment, Looman said, PSSI must identify and remove them from dangerous work.

The company’s vice president of marketing, Gina Swenson, said in a statement Friday that the company has 'a zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under the age of 18.'