PSSI fined $1.5 million in child labor penalties, including underage workers at JBS Worthington

A federal investigation found that Packer’s Sanitation Services Inc. reportedly employed over 100 children illegally, with 22 minors found working at Worthington's JBS plant.

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Worthington's JBS pork processing plant, the community's largest employer with approximately 2,200 workers, is shown April 14, 2020. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Packer’s Sanitation Services Inc., one of the nation's largest food safety sanitation services, paid over $1.5 million in penalties after the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found the company reportedly employed at least 102 children at 13 meat processing facilities, including Worthington’s JBS plant.

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Across eight states, children ranging from 13 to 17 years of age were found to be working in hazardous occupations during overnight shifts at processing plants under the employment of PSSI. The division found that children were working with hazardous chemicals and cleaning meat processing equipment including back saws, brisket saws and head splitters. Investigators reported that at least three minors suffered injuries while working for PSSI. The Wisconsin-based company provides cleaning services under contract to some of the nation's largest meat and poultry producers, including JBS USA and Tyson Food Inc.

“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,” explained Principal Deputy Wage and Hour Administrator 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.”

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the department assessed PSSI $15,138 for each minor-aged employee who was employed in violation of the law. The amount is the maximum civil penalty allowed by federal law.

At the Worthington JBS location, the Department of Labor stated that 22 minors had been found working hazardous jobs, resulting in $333,036 in assessed penalties. In total, JBS penalties amounted to $1,544,076.


“The Department of Labor has made it absolutely clear that violations of child labor laws will not be tolerated,” said Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda. “No child should ever be subject to the conditions found in this investigation. The courts have upheld the department’s rightful authority to execute federal court-approved search warrants and compelled this employer to change their hiring practices to ensure compliance with the law. 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.”

The investigation into PSSI began last August, and in November the U.S. Department of Labor sought and was granted a nationwide court injunction to PSSI’s alleged illegal employment of minors. The injunction followed on the heels of the Wage and Hour Division’s investigation that found 31 children, employed by PSSI, working overnight shifts at processing plants at JBS USA plants in Grand Island, Nebraska, and Worthington, and at Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, Minnesota.

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“Our investigation found Packers Sanitation Services’ systems flagged some young workers as minors, but the company ignored the flags. 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,” said Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Michael Lazzeri in Chicago.

On Dec. 6, 2022, the U.S. District Court of Nebraska entered a consent order and judgment , in which the employer agreed to comply with the FLSA’s child labor provisions in all of its operations nationwide and to take significant steps to ensure future compliance with the law, including employing an outside compliance specialist.

JBS announced in December that it would be ending its contract with PSSI , following the investigation into the child labor allegations. Permanent layoffs of PSSI employees at the Worthington JBS were set to begin Jan. 21.

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Emma McNamee joined The Globe team in October 2021 as a reporter covering Crime & Courts, Politics, and the City beats. Born and raised in Duluth, Minn., McNamee left her hometown to attend school in Chicago at Columbia College. She graduated in 2021 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism, with a concentration in News & Feature Writing and a minor in Creative Writing.
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