A Department of Labor investigation has uncovered ‘oppressive child labor’ practices at Nebraska and Minnesota slaughterhouses owned by JBS, the company behind Certified Angus Beef and other brands.
Investigators found 31 children ages 13 to 17 who worked for cleaning subcontractor Packers Sanitation Services (PSSI) at JBS plants in Grand Island, Nebraska and Worthington, Minnesota, and at Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, Minnesota.
The youths worked night shifts cleaning “dangerous electrical equipment,” authorities said, causing a 13-year-old boy and other underage workers to suffer “caustic chemical burns.”
The Department of Labor has asked the Nebraska District Court to impose a nationwide restraining order against PSSI to prevent them from “illegally employing dozens of underage workers” while the investigation continues.
In court documents made available to DailyMail.com, the department warns that PSSI may also be working with children “in its 400 other operations across the country.”
The cleaning company said it has an “absolute company-wide ban” against the employment of children, but that “rogue individuals” with false IDs may have slipped through its vetting system.
The Department of Labor lawsuit features this image of a PSSI employee cleaning in limited visibility at the JBS plant in Worthington, Minnesota.
Christine Heri, the regional labor attorney in Chicago, said the department “will hold accountable employers who mistakenly believe they may violate the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), obstruct federal investigations, and retaliate against workers who assert their rights.” Rights’.
Investigators focused on PSSI in August after receiving “credible information” about teenagers who worked at the three slaughterhouses and executed warrants to gain access to the company’s plants and offices in Keiler, Wisconsin.
They identified violations of the FLSA, which prohibits children from working for more than three hours during school days, overnight and from operating motor vehicles, forklifts and using other dangerous equipment, the department said.
The youths had to “perform hazardous work cleaning industrial power-driven meat processing and slaughtering equipment on the slaughter floors of meat processing and slaughter facilities in the middle of the night,” court documents show.
They cleaned machines with such ominous names as the Heavy Duty Head Splitter, Dehorner and Dominator Mixer/Grinder, described in court documents as a “125-horsepower behemoth that can grind 36,000 pounds of meat per hour.”
Several young workers, including a 13-year-old, suffered “serious chemical burns” from PSSI’s powerful cleaning chemicals.
Those decades-old laws were put in place to “prevent employers from profiting by putting children in harm’s way,” said Michael Lazzeri, a Chicago-based labor department official.
“Preying on children, exposing them to workplace hazards, and interfering with a federal investigation demonstrates Packers Sanitation Services’ blatant disregard for the law and for the welfare of young workers,” Lazzeri said.
The subcontractor also intimidated its young employees into not cooperating with government inspectors and “allegedly deleted and tampered with employment files,” investigators said.
JBS is behind supermarket brands like Swift. The world’s largest meat processing company slaughters some 13 million animals a day
A PSSI spokeswoman told DailyMail.com that the company has a “zero tolerance…company-wide ban” against hiring young people and uses “industry-leading” government-backed and biometric systems to verify employment. ages of new hires.
“While dishonest individuals could, of course, attempt to commit fraud or identity theft, we rely on our company’s strict compliance policies and will vigorously defend against these claims,” the spokeswoman added.
The spokeswoman said she was “surprised” that the department had gone to court as the company was “cooperating with their investigation” through an audit and providing documents.
The company provides sanitation, chemical cleaning and pest control in about 700 slaughterhouses and food processing plants in the US and employs about 17,000 workers.
JBS, the world’s largest meat processor, which slaughters more than 13 million animals a day and earns about $50 billion a year, did not immediately respond to DailyMail.com’s request for comment.
The pigs were euthanized en masse because JBS was forced to close its plant in Worthington, Minnesota, after more than 500 cases of Covid-19 were discovered among workers there.
It’s behind supermarket brands like Certified Angus Beef, Pilgrim’s, Swift, 1855, Country Pride, Clear River Farms, Moyer and Savoro and many others. On its website, the company says it has “strong corporate governance and strong ethics.”
The firm, owned by Brazilian billionaire brothers Wesley and Joesley Batista, was forced in 2020 to close its plant in Greeley, Colorado, and in Souderton, Pennsylvania, after four employees died of coronavirus and more than 100 tested positive.
Turkey Valley Farms declined to comment.
Korea’s top automaker, Hyundai, said last month that it was investigating child labor violations in its US supply chain and planned to cut ties with suppliers in Alabama that the Alabama state Department of Labor and federal agencies discovered that they relied on underage workers.
Hyundai’s global chief operating officer, Jose Munoz, told Reuters the automaker intended to “cut ties” with SMART Alabama and Korea-operated SL Alabama, which supply Hyundai’s massive vehicle assembly plant. Hyundai in Montgomery, Alabama.