A Wisconsin-based industrial cleaning company is accused of illegally employing dozens of teens as young as 13 to work in dangerous conditions during long graveyard shifts, according to a civil complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI), which describes itself as a “leading provider of food safety solutions,” denies the allegations that it employed more than 30 children, ages 13 to 17, to clean meat processing plants in Minnesota and Nebraska.
Federal labor laws prohibit children under 14 from working in any capacity. Children aged 14 and 15 are only allowed to work before 7 p.m. during the school year and no later than 9 p.m. in the summer.
Children cannot work more than three hours on school days, eight hours on non-school days, or more than 18 hours per week.
It is also illegal for anyone under 18 to work on killing floors or mechanized processing equipment because the work is a federally designated “hazardous occupation.”
Allegedly, at least one worker under 14 was responsible for cleaning in a slaughtering and meatpacking plant, some children under 15 were working overnight shifts during the school year, and other employees under 18 worked on the killing floor and cleaned power-driven machines, according to the DOL.
Several of the underage employees were allegedly injured on the job. The lawsuit claims that many of the children worked from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. or 7 a.m. and that the young workers worked five or six days per week, with several working all seven days a week.
After learning of the investigation, PSSI managers “attempted to thwart or tamper the collection of evidence in multiple ways,” the filing alleges.
The managers allegedly told federal investigators they were not allowed to take photographs, attempted to block investigators from interviewing the workers, and deleted documents containing evidence.
Last week, a federal judge approved a temporary restraining order against PSSI, ordering the company to cease employing anyone under 18 in hazardous roles and refrain from interfering with the investigation.
In a statement, the company denied the allegations, saying 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.”
Underage workers may have misrepresented their ages to gain employment, the company suggested.
“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,” a spokesperson said.
The company also said it has cooperated with investigators and will continue to do so.