A company that cleans slaughterhouses has been ordered to stop employing child workers and cooperate with a U.S. Department of Labor investigation.
U.S. District Court Judge John Gerrard of the District of Nebraska on Thursday issued a temporary restraining order against Packers Sanitation Service and ordered the firm to cooperate with the Department of Labor probe into abuses, according to the U.K. Daily Mail.
Gerrard ordered the company to “cease and refrain from employing oppressive child labor” and to stop “destroying or disposing of any information or documents” related to the investigation.
The company must also stop “threatening employees from cooperating” with investigators and “retaliating against any employees who participate in the investigation,” he wrote, according to the Daily Mail.
A hearing is set for Nov. 23 to discuss next steps regarding the order, according to CNBC.
Federal investigators issued search warrants at plants in Grand Island, Nebraska, and Worthington, Minnesota, owned by JBS USA and at a Turkey Valley Farms poultry processing plant in Marshall, Minnesota.
“PSSI employs or has employed at least thirty-one (31) minor male and female children, as young as thirteen, to clean dangerous power-driven equipment with corrosive cleaners during overnight shifts at three (3) separate slaughtering and meat packing facilities in Nebraska and Minnesota,” according to the Department of Labor’s court filing.
The filing said some teens working overnight shifts were as young as 13.
The filing also said the company may also employ child labor at 400 other locations “across the country.”
According to CNBC, school records indicated that one of the teens, a 14-year-old, missed school after “suffering injuries from chemical burns.”
At least two other teens also suffered chemical burns, the court filing states.
“Minor Child A reported they had worked for PSSI at age fourteen (14) at the JBS facility from 11 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. or 7:00 a.m. cleaning machines with chemicals that gave them a burn injury,” the filing said.
“Minor Child B reported they worked for PSSI at age fourteen (14) at the JBS facility from 11:00 p.m. until 5:00 a.m., five to six days a week, from December 2021 to April 2022, cleaning machines ‘used to cut meat’ while attending Walnut Middle School in Grand Island,” the filing said.
The filing said investigators “reviewed a report detailing Minor Child B’s overnight work for PSSI and Minor Child B falling asleep in class and missing class as a result and suffering injuries from chemical burns.”
The filing said the third teen burned “was treated at the plant” for his injuries.
“Wage and Hour’s investigation found that PSSI employed a minor under the age of 14 at the JBS facility and employs minors under the age of 16 at the JBS facility during overnight shifts to work more than 3 hours in a day and more than 18 hours in a week while school is in session. Wage and Hour found that PSSI employs minors under the age of 18 whose job is to clean the killing floor,” the filing said.
“Wage and Hour also found that PSSI employs minors at the JBS slaughtering and meat packing establishment in Grand Island, Nebraska under the age of 18 who clean power-driven machines, including meat and bone cutting saws,” the filing said.
According to CNBC, a representative for the company told NBC News it “has an absolute company-wide prohibition against the employment of anyone under the age of 18 and zero tolerance for any violation of that policy —period.”
“While rogue individuals could of course seek to engage in fraud or identity theft, we are confident in our company’s strict compliance policies and will defend ourselves vigorously against these claims,” the representative said, adding that company executives were “surprised” by the department’s filing.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.