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Labor Department finds more than 100 children worked hazardous jobs for sanitation company

The Labor Department has found that more than 100 children worked in hazardous jobs for a major sanitation company, which has agreed to pay a $1.5 million fine in penalties. 

The department said in a release on Friday that its Wage and Hour Division found that Packers Sanitation Services (PSSI) employed at least 102 children between the ages of 13 and 17 in “hazardous occupations” and had them work overnight shifts at 13 meat processing facilities across eight states. 

An investigation by the division at the company, which is based in Kieler, Wis., found children were working with hazardous chemicals and cleaning meat processing equipment like back saws, brisket saws and head splitters. At least three children sustained injuries while working for PSSI. 

The department issued the maximum penalty allowed under the Fair Labor Standards Act, charging the company $15,138 for each minor employed in violation of child labor laws. 

A temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction were initially filed against PSSI in November after the division obtained evidence that at least 31 children were in hazardous jobs cleaning dangerous equipment during overnight shifts at one plant in Nebraska and two plants in Minnesota. 

The division has been conducting an investigation since August. 

The Hill has reached out to PSSI for comment. 

The company told NBC News in a statement that it conducted multiple audits of its employee base after becoming aware of the department’s allegations. It said the audits confirmed none of the individuals that the department mentioned currently work for the company, and many left the company years ago. 

“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 [Department of Labor’s] objective of ensuring full compliance at all locations,” it said. 

But top Labor officials slammed the company for the violations in the release, saying that they happened because PSSI ignored concerns. 

“The child labor violations in this case were systemic and reached across eight states, and clearly indicate a corporate-wide failure by Packers Sanitation Services at all levels,” said Principal Deputy Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division Jessica Looman. “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.” 

The department found the locations where the highest number of children worked in these jobs were plants in Nebraska, where 27 minors worked; Kansas, where 26 minors worked; and Minnesota, where 22 minors worked. 

“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. “No child should ever be subject to the conditions found in this investigation.”

Source: The Hill

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