Plumbing company pays $1.5 million fine for hiring children

  • The US Department of Labor filed a complaint against PSSI in November after a three-month investigation into unlawful child labor claims.
  • PSSI was fined $1.5 million as a result of the investigation, officials said.
  • The department accused the plumbing company of allowing employees as young as 13 to work “dangerous” night shifts.

According to the US Department of Labor, an industrial cleaning service has been fined $1.5 million for employing dozens of children on dangerous night shifts that caused injuries, including a chemical burn suffered by a 13-year-old.

In a Friday press release, the DOL said Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI) was fined over $1 million after investigators found the company was killing at least 102 children between the ages of 13 and 17 employed in “dangerous jobs”. The number is more than three times the number of underage workers originally reported in a November press release.

According to DOL, minors performed chores like cleaning electrical equipment like bone and meat saws during night shifts, and many of them – including the 13-year-old – suffered burns and other injuries while doing the work.

The DOL, following its investigation, filed a complaint seeking a restraining order and restraining order against the Food Safety Sanitation Service.

Months ago, a PSSI representative said the company was surprised by the Labor Department’s complaint because its corporate headquarters were “collaborating with their investigation and providing extensive documents and responses.”

PSSI was fined $15,138 per underage worker — the maximum amount of civil fines allowed under federal law — under the Fair Labor Standards Act, officials said.

The department specifically cited PSSI contracts with JBS USA, a Nebraska-based beef slaughterhouse and meatpacker, and Minnesota-based Turkey Valley Farms turkey processor.

“The child labor violations in this case were systemic and spanned eight states and clearly indicate a company-wide failure of Packers Sanitation Services at every level,” Jessica Looman, deputy chief administrator of the payroll and hours division, said in the news release.

“These children should never have been employed in meatpacking plants and that can only happen if employers fail to take responsibility to prevent child labor violations from occurring in the first place.”

The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division said it began investigating PSSI, which is headquartered in Wisconsin, in August after it received allegations of possible violations of child labor laws.

PSSI was founded in 1973. It employs about 17,000 people to provide contract services including cleaning and pest control for about 700 food processing plants across the United States, the press release said. According to the company’s official website, the staff includes food sanitizers, microbiologists, equipment engineers, and safety specialists.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, minors under the age of 14 are not allowed to work, and 14 and 15 year olds are not allowed to work after 9pm and after 7pm after Labor Day during the summer months.

In its complaint filed in the US District Court of Nebraska, the department alleges the company intimidated underage workers and “deleted and tampered with employee files” to interfere with investigations.

In a statement to CBS News, PSSI said it was “delighted to have completed this comparative figure” with the DOL. The company added that no children are currently employed and many have not worked for the company for years.

However, a PSSI spokesman said in a statement to Insider in November that it had a “zero tolerance” policy on hiring employees under the age of 18.

“PSSI has an absolute company-wide ban on employing anyone under the age of 18 and zero tolerance for violations of this policy — period,” the statement said. The company thoroughly verifies employees using “document review, biometrics, and multiple layers of audits.”

The statement continued, “While rogues could of course attempt to engage in fraud or identity theft, we have confidence in our company’s strict compliance policies and will vigorously defend ourselves against these allegations.”

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