KIELER, WIS. – The US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division announced on Feb. 17 that sanitation company Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI) would pay $1.5 million in civil penalties after the department found that at least 102 workers from 13 to 17 years of age were cleaning meatpacking plants.

The investigation found that the minors were working overnight shifts at 13 meat processing facilities in eight states. 

DOL shared that PSSI was assessed a penalty of $15,138 per minor-aged employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The amount is the maximum civil money penalty allowed by federal law.

Following the announcement of penalties, PSSI released a statement regarding the situation.

“We are pleased to have finalized this settlement figure as part of our previously announced December resolution with the Department of Labor (DOL) that ends their inquiry,” the company said. “We have been crystal clear from the start: Our company has a zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under the age of 18 and fully shares the DOL’s objective of ensuring full compliance at all locations.

“As soon as we became aware of the DOL’s allegations, we conducted multiple additional audits of our employee base, and hired a third-party law firm to review and help further strengthen our policies in this area. We have also conducted multiple additional trainings for hiring managers, including on spotting identity theft.”

The company said its audits and DOL investigation confirmed that none of the individuals DOL cited as under the age of 18 work for the company today, and many had separated from employment with PSSI multiple years ago. PSSI also said that the DOL did not identify any managers aware of improper conduct that PSSI currently employs.

The Wage and Hour Division said some jobs included working with hazardous chemicals and cleaning meat processing equipment, including back saws, brisket saws and head splitters. Investigators said at least three minors were injured while working for PSSI. 

“Our investigation found Packers Sanitation Services’ systems flagged some young workers as minors, but the company ignored the flags,” said Michael Lazzeri, regional administrator for the division in Chicago. “When the Wage and Hour Division arrived with warrants, the adults – who had recruited, hired and supervised these children – tried to derail our efforts to investigate their employment practices.”

According to the DOL investigation, the 27 minor-aged workers were employed by PSSI to work at a JBS USA facility in Grand Island, Neb., while 22 minors cleaned the Worthington, Minn., plant.

At a Cargill facility in Dodge City, Kan., 26 minor-aged workers were employed by PSSI.

Other processors where PSSI sent minors to work included George’s Inc., Tyson Foods Inc., Maple Leaf Farms Inc., Turkey Valley Farms, Buckhead Meat of Minnesota, Gibbon Packing Co and Greater Omaha Packing Co.

In November 2022, the DOL issued its first national temporary restraining order against PSSI. 

Then in December, the DOL outlined the agreed terms by PSSI, starting with reviewing existing policies and training materials for compliance related to child labor laws.

A few days after that, PSSI entered into an agreement with the US District Court of Nebraska in Lincoln, regarding the case. 

On Dec. 15, PSSI shared that it would lay off employees at two facilities after JBS ended the cleaning contract.