West News Wire: One of the country’s leading food safety sanitation service providers was found to have illegally hired more than 100 children in 13 facilities across eight states, according to a rigorous investigation by the Labor Department.

According to the DOL, its investigation into Packers Sanitation Services Inc., based in Wisconsin, discovered that at least 102 children between the ages of 13 and 17 were working illegally, frequently on overnight shifts, with hazardous chemicals and machinery like backsaws, brisket saws, and head splitters.

According to the agency, investigators discovered that three children, including a 13-year-old who sustained chemical burns, were hurt while working for PSSI.

The government assessed the business a $15,138 fine in accordance with the Fair Work Standards Act for each illegally hired youngster.

The total penalty paid by the company totaled $1,544,076 and is the maximum civil penalty allowed by federal law, DOL said.

Overall, the company paid $1.5 million in civil penalties for the employment of 102 children in 13 facilities across Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Texas.

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

DOL spokesperson Rhonda Burke told news reporters that company managers directed department investigators to not take pictures or video, sat across from employees while they were being interviewed, remained in the area of interviews even after being asked to leave, instructed one minor to only stay for five minutes, and moved an item into the recycle bin of their computer after being asked for access to it.

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“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 Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division 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 company’s vice president of marketing, Gina Swenson, said in a statement Friday that the company has “a zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under the age of 18,” according to the sources.

As soon as PSSI became aware of the allegations, she said, it conducted audits and hired an outside law firm to help strengthen its policies. PSSI has also conducted additional training for hiring managers, including on spotting identity theft, she said.

None of the minors identified by federal investigators still work for PSSI, and the Department of Labor “has also not identified any managers aware of improper conduct that are currently employed” by the company, Swenson added, the AP reported.


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