Wisconsin-based Packers Sanitation Services Inc. paid $1.5 million in civil money penalties after a U.S. Department of Labor investigation found that at least 102 children were employed at meat processing facilities in violation of federal child labor laws, the agency said in a press release Friday.
The children, who ranged from ages 13 to 17, used hazardous chemicals and cleaned meat processing equipment during overnight shifts, DOL said. At least three suffered injuries while working for PSSI. The agency’s investigation found violations at 13 facilities across eight states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee and Texas.
DOL filed a complaint against PSSI in a Nebraska district court in November 2022. The following month, the court entered a consent order and judgment in which PSSI agreed to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act’s child labor provisions. DOL assessed penalties of $15,138 per illegally employed worker, the maximum civil money penalty allowed under federal law.
A PSSI spokesperson told HR Dive in an email that the company is “fully committed to working with DOL to make additional improvements to enforce our prohibition of employing anyone under the age of 18.” The spokesperson said DOL’s investigation and internal audits found that none of the minors cited by DOL currently work for the company.
Additionally, DOL has not identified any managers aware of improper conduct who are currently employed by PSSI, the spokesperson said.
“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 spokesperson 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.”
The news represents yet another DOL enforcement action following the agency’s assurances last year that it would focus on illegal employment of “youth-aged” workers in violation of the FLSA. Earlier this month, automaker Hyundai Motor Group confirmed that it had been in contact with DOL regarding alleged child labor law violations at U.S. supplier manufacturing sites. In December, DOL announced that a McDonald’s franchisee would pay more than $57,000 in penalties to resolve violations at 13 locations in the Pittsburgh area. Little Caesars and Chick-fil-A also saw similar enforcement actions last year.
An agency fact sheet states that minors under the age of 18 are prohibited from employment in certain hazardous occupations, including the cleaning of equipment or the disassembled machine parts of power-driven meat processing machines. DOL said that children employed by PSSI cleaned equipment including back saws, brisket saws and head splitters.
The violations announced Friday indicated a “corporate-wide failure by [PSSI] at all levels,” Jessica Looman, principal deputy administrator of DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, said in the press release. “These children should never have been employed in meat packing plants and this can only happen when employers do not take responsibility to prevent child labor violations from occurring in the first place.”