Labor Dept. orders $1.5M fine for alleged use of child labor at meatpacking plants

A Wisconsin-based food sanitation contractor has been fined more than $1.5 million after it allegedly employed minors at multiple meatpacking plants, including a few in Minnesota.

The U.S. Department of Labor says Packers Sanitation Services, Inc. (PSSI), based out of Kieler, Wis., paid its $1.5 million in civil penalties Thursday.

It comes two months after the company and labor department agreed to a settle a lawsuit over the illegal employment of minors at the facilities. However, at that time, the financial penalty wasn’t finalized.

Ultimately, federal officials assessed a $15,138 fine — the maximum penalty allowed by law — for each minor employed by PSSI, the labor department says.

“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,” Principal Deputy Wage and Hour Administrator Jessica Looman said in a statement. “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 of Labor says its investigation showed that PSSI employed more than 100 juveniles between the ages of 13 and 17 at facilities in eight states, including at Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, Buckhead Meat in St. Cloud and JBS Foods in Worthington.

PSSI sent the following statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on Friday:

“We are pleased to have finalized this settlement figure as part of our previously announced December resolution with the Department of Labor (DOL) that ends their inquiry. 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 DOL’s objective of ensuring full compliance at all locations.

“As soon as we became aware of the DOL’s allegations, we conducted multiple additional audits of our employee base, and hired a third-party law firm to review and help further strengthen our policies in this area. We have also conducted multiple additional trainings for hiring managers, including on spotting identity theft.

“Our audits and DOL’s investigation confirmed that none of the individuals DOL cited as under the age of 18 work for the company today, and many had separated from employment with PSSI multiple years ago. The DOL has also not identified any managers aware of improper conduct that are currently employed by PSSI.

“While we already have industry-leading procedures to help prevent identity theft – including mandatory use of the government’s E-Verify system for new hires, extensive training, multiple audits, and biometrics – we are fully committed to working with DOL to make additional improvements to enforce our prohibition of employing anyone under the age of 18.”

Packers Sanitation Services, Inc.