Federal officials said many children as young as 13 were employed by a major US food sanitation company to work in hazardous conditions for extended graveyard shifts.
According to the Labor Department, Packers Sanitation Services Inc. allegedly utilized child labor in three meatpacking facilities spread over two states.
The company was accused of committing illegal acts at plants in Grand Island, Nebraska, Worthington, Minnesota and Marshall, Minnesota and the Labor Department asked a federal court to impose a nationwide temporary restraining order and injunction against it.
The department revealed that over 30 young workers, all under the age of 18, were assigned to clean hazardous powered equipment during overnight shifts.
A federal lawsuit filed against the company claims that several underage employees, including one who was 13 years old, experienced “severe” chemical burns. On a factory kill floor, many of the juvenile workers were in charge of cleaning heavy equipment like brisket saws, beef dehorners and a “190-pound saw designed to cut cow carcasses in half length-wise.”
The filings also state that after the children finish their shifts early in the morning, several of them go straight to their middle schools, where they always fall asleep in class during lessons.
Many of the children worked from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. or 7 a.m. The young employees put in five to six days of labor per week, with some even clocking in seven days.
According to the Department of Labor, the investigation began in August after a “reliable” source reported that the business had children working in dangerous conditions.
US Food Sanitation Company, Packers Sanitation Services Inc. tried to cover their tracks.
PSSI managers “attempted to obstruct or tamper with the acquisition of evidence in different ways” after becoming aware of the investigation, the document claims.
The supervisors are accused of destroying documents that contained evidence, telling investigators they couldn’t take pictures, and trying to prevent them from speaking with the underage employees.
However, PSSI has refuted the claims, stating that it has “an absolute company-wide prohibition against the employment of anyone under the age of 18 and zero tolerance for any violation of that policy, period.”
Children’s Working Age and Hours
- Children under the age of 14 are not allowed to work in any manner, according to federal law.
- Children aged 14 and 15 are only allowed to work before 7 p.m. during the school year, and no later than 9 p.m. in the summer.
- Children are only permitted to work a maximum of three hours during the school day, eight hours over the weekend, and a maximum of 18 hours every week.
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Additionally, it is prohibited for children to handle the hazardous equipment that the PSSI is said to have given them access to.