WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — A company that provides food safety sanitation services around the nation has paid $1.5 million in penalties, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Photo showing attire of PSSI employee working in Ground Beef room of the Grand Island JBS plant, taken by Wage and Hour Investigator Lopez. (Courtesy U.S. Department of Labor)

Investigators say that Packers Sanitation Services Inc. of Wisconsin employed at least 102 children, ages 13 to 17, in hazardous occupations and had them work overnight shifts at 13 meat processing facilities in eight states. DOL says 26 of the minors worked at the Cargill Inc. plant in Dodge City.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, DOL assessed PSSI $15,138 for each child who was employed in violation of the law. The amount is the maximum civil money penalty allowed by federal law.

DOL’s Wage and Hour Division began investigating PSSI in August.

“Our investigation found Packers Sanitation Services’ systems flagged some young workers as minors, but the company ignored the flags,” Michael Lazzeri, Wage and Hour regional administrator, said in a news release. “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.”

Packers Sanitation Services Inc. employed minors to use caustic chemicals to clean razor-sharp saws, other high-risk equipment at 13 meat processing facilities in 8 states”

U.S. Department of Labor
Photo showing limited visibility and condition of the floor at the Worthington JBS plant, taken by Wage and Hour Investigator Latuff. (Courtesy U.S. Department of Labor)

In November, the Solicitor’s Office filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court of Nebraska claiming it had evidence the PSSI had employed at least 31 children in hazardous occupations to clean dangerous powered equipment during overnight shifts at JBS USA plants in Grand Island, Nebraska, and Worthington, Minnesota, and at Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, Minnesota.

U.S. District Court Judge John M. Gerrard issued a temporary restraining order forbidding the company and its employees from committing child labor violations.

In December, the DOL says the Nebraska court entered a consent order and judgment in which PSSI agreed to comply with the FLSA’s child labor rules in all of its operations. DOL says the company also agreed to take significant steps to ensure future compliance with the law, including employing an outside compliance specialist.

The DOL says PSI paid the $1.5 million in civil money penalties on Thursday.

“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,” Jessica Looman, principal deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division, said.

Photo showing PSSI employee using a hose to clean the “New Fab” area of the Grand Island JBS plant, taken by Wage and Hour Investigator Lopez. (Courtesy U.S. Department of Labor)

“The Department of Labor has made it absolutely clear that violations of child labor laws will not be tolerated,” Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda said in the news release. “No child should ever be subject to the conditions found in this investigation.”

KSN News reached out to Cargill for its response to the DOL’s findings about PSSI. Cargill said PSSI was a vendor.

The allegations settled today between PSSI and the Department of Labor did not involve any claims of misconduct against Cargill. The allegations against PSSI were not substantiated by any evidence in a court of law. The only PSSI employee allegedly working at a Cargill facility who was identified by name as a minor by the Department of Labor, was investigated and proven to be an adult.

“Under no circumstances does Cargill tolerate underage labor and will terminate existing contracts if they are violated. We have robust auditing processes and contractor requirements, and we hold all third parties to the highest ethical standards.”

Cargill, Inc.

The DOL says the Wage and Hour Division investigation included the following locations:

Name of processorLocationAffected minorsPenalties assessed
George’s Inc.Batesville, Arkansas4$60,552
Tyson Food Inc.Green Forest, Arkansas6$90,828
JBS FoodsGreeley, Colorado4$60,552
Maple Leaf Farms Inc.Milford, Indiana2$30,276
Cargill Inc.Dodge City, Kansas26$393,588
Turkey Valley FarmsMarshall, Minnesota2$30,276
Buckhead Meat of MinnesotaSt. Cloud, Minnesota1$15,138
JBS FoodsWorthington, Minnesota22$333,036
Gibbon Packing Co.Gibbon, Nebraska1$15,138
JBS FoodsGrand Island, Nebraska27$408,726
Greater Omaha Packing Co. Inc.Omaha, Nebraska5$75,690
Tyson Food Inc.Goodlettsville, Tennessee1$15,138
Cargill Inc.Fiona, Texas1$15,138
Total penalties paid by PSSI$1,544,076
Courtesy U.S. Department of Labor

“Let this case be a powerful reminder that all workers in the United States are entitled to the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act and that an employer who violates wage laws will be held accountable,” Nanda said.