Nebraska food plant had dozens of child labourers cleaning equipment, leaving two with caustic burns

21 Feb.,2023


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A federal judge in Nebraska has ordered an industrial cleaning company to stop hiring underage labourers after children as young as 13 suffered caustic burns while working at a meat packing plant.

Judge John Gerrard issued a temporary restraining order against the Packers Sanitation Service (PSSI) after a Department of Labor investigation found the firm had employed 31 children to clean dangerous heavy machinery on the “kill floor” during overnight shifts at meat processing plants.

Investigators found several children, including one aged just 13, had suffered chemical burns while cleaning meat and bone cutting saws at JBS plants in Grand Island, Nebraska, and Worthington, Minnesota, and at Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, Nebraska.

The Department of Labor said in a court filing that PSSI interfered with its investigation by intimidating child workers, and allegedly deleted and manipulated employment files.

Children were forced to use cleaning chemicals that burned their skin while scrubbing machinery and floors at slaughterhouses, the DOL alleges.

Judge Gerrard ordered PSSI to cease “oppressive child labour” and banned it from disposing of documents related to the investigation.

A judge has ordered a Nebraska food plant to stop using child labour

Investigators received a tip-off in August that child labour was being employed the three plants, and raided its three processing plants offices in Wisconsin.

They discovered alleged breaches of federal laws governing underage workers, which prohibits children from working more than three hours on school days, working overnight, or operating heavy machinery.

Child workers were forced to clean machines that skin fat from carcasses, pulls fat from kidneys, and a 196-pound saw used for “splitting fat cattle, bulls, oxen, and horses”, according to the court filing.

When DOL investigators attempted to interview teenagers at a plant in Grand Island, PSSI managers also attempted to obstruct them.

The DOL alleged that underage workers may be employed at some of the 400 other food processing plants where PSSI has contracts.

In a statement, a PSSI spokeswoman told The Independent they would “vigorously” defend the charges.

The spokeswoman said the company was surprised at the DOL allegations as they had been cooperating with their inquiry.

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