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Feds: 31 Children Were Discovered Working Graveyard Shifts on “Kill Floors” of a Meat Plant

The federal government has asked for a temporary injunction against a large sanitation company for allegedly hiring minors as young as 13 for “dangerous” midnight shifts at food processing plants in a complaint that seems like it belongs in the Great Depression.

The Department of Labor is looking into Packers Sanitation Services, or PSSI, after a reliable tip indicated that at least 31 kids were working as industrial equipment cleaners, according to the complaint. Injuries and burns from caustic chemicals were sustained by at least two of the young workers while they were working on the “kill floor”—where cattle are butchered—at a JBS Foods facility in Grand Island, Nebraska, according to the lawsuit.

According to an employee onboarding video on YouTube, PSSI hires local workers across the nation to sterilize industrial buildings, such as food processing facilities, frequently in overnight hours that involve “work with and around dangerous machinery” and usage of “strong chemicals.” According to the company’s website, it employs 17,000 people.

JBS Foods’ pork processing facility in Worthington, Minnesota. The Grand Island facility as well as two Minnesota plants—one run by JBS Foods in Worthington and the other by Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall—were where the Department of Labor claimed to have found underage laborers.

Although none of the youngsters referenced in the case were identified, the filing noted that they worked considerably more hours than what was allowed by federal law for minors. Spanish was the native language of every minor involved, according to the complaint.

The Fair Standards and Labor Act, passed in 1938, made it illegal for anyone under the age of 14 to work at all. Working after 9 p.m. in the summer and after 7 p.m. during the school year is not permitted for teenagers aged 14 and 15.

For those who are 16 and older, labor regulations are more lenient, but they still prohibit working longer than three hours during the school day and more than 18 hours per week. The law forbids youngsters from using or being near “dangerous” equipment.

One juvenile worker, a 14-year-old student at Walnut Middle School in Grand Island, allegedly worked from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., five or six days a week between December and April, according to the federal government. Investigators found that the child’s student ID and employment ID were identical. According to the complaint, the girl frequently dozed off in class and missed school as a result of the chemical harm she suffered at the facility.

The alleged damage to the youngster is recurring. Three PSSI employees have perished on the job since 2018, according to a report from March, including one who was cleaning a poultry freezer when they were decapitated. According to the report, which was ordered by the oversight organization Private Equity Stakeholder Project, injuries to four additional victims led to amputations.

Many of the kids included in the Department of Labor’s complaint had to clean “electric knives” and “Grasselli skinners”—machines intended to remove fat from an animal’s carcass—that were used to carve meat. During tours of each plant, investigators from the department’s Wage and Hour Division spoke with “a number of adolescents.” According to the lawsuit, they noticed that “almost all locations” of the facility included “meat and bone cutting saws” or other hazardous power tools that weren’t intended to be cleaned by kids.

During the visit, the feds claimed to have discovered disgusting conditions, including what seemed to be cow fat all over the Grand Island death floor. Additionally, they claimed PSSI tried to impede the investigation by retaliating against employees who spoke with investigators and erasing or altering employee files to hide its history of wrongful employment.

The complaint claimed that when investigators spoke with employees in person, PSSI supervisors made an effort to remain nearby and overhear their talks, refusing to leave until directed to do so. OSHA, Meatpacking  However, the corporation refuted the Department of Labor’s allegations in a statement to The Daily Beast on Wednesday, speculating that kids may have exaggerated their ages.

Although rogue individuals would naturally attempt to commit fraud or identity theft, the statement claimed that “we are confident in our company’s strict compliance measures and will firmly defend ourselves against these charges.”

The U.S. Government’s E-Verify system, document verification, and biometrics are among the “industry-leading, best-in-class methods” that PSSI said were utilized to confirm identities during the recruiting process. The business also disputed the government’s assertion that they had impeded an inquiry, claiming to be “surprised” by the filing. According to their statement, PSSI cooperated with federal authorities right away and had previously passed numerous audits.

In the statement, it was said that PSSI “will continue to cooperate with the DOL and will continue to enforce its total prohibition against employing anyone under the age of 18—period.” JBS Foods, who hired cleaners at two of the locations cited in the lawsuit under a contract with PSSI, did not reply to a request for comment. The Turkey Valley Farms plant’s general manager, Les Goff, told The Daily Beast that he had “no comment at this time.”

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