February 21, 2023
Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, email@example.com, (202) 823-8442
Washington, D.C. – The Child Labor Coalition, consisting of 39 organizational members who work to end exploitative child labor domestically and internationally, calls attention to today’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) that its just-completed investigation found 102 children working in cleaning crews in 13 meatpacking plants in eight states. DOL levied a fine of $1.5 million in civil money penalties against Packer Sanitation Services, Inc. (PSSI).
The children often worked the graveyard shift and used caustic chemical agents while they cleaned meat processing equipment including backsaws, brisket saws and head splitters. DOL learned that three minors were injured while working for PSSI.
Sally Greenberg, chair of the Child Labor Coalition, publicly called for meatpacking plants to be investigated for underage worker in 2008 during a congressional hearing on child labor.
“While we applaud this seemingly robust investigation by U.S. DOL, we wonder why the meatpacking firms who benefited from illegal child labor are not being held liable,” said Reid Maki, who is the Child Labor Coalitions coordinator and the Director of Child labor Advocacy for U.S. DOL. “Firms like JBS Foods, Tyson Food, Cargill, Turkey Valley Farms and others, hired PSSI to do the cleaning but company employees witness underage workers performing hazardous work with dangerous chemicals and did nothing to stop it. Why aren’t these companies being punished?” he asked.
Maki noted that the fine amount is the legal maximum that DOL could assess in the case but $1.5 million is roughly one day’s revenue for a company like PSSI that has over $450 million in annual revenue. “We would really love to see maximum and minimum child labor fines increased, and we had discussions with Senator Schatz’s office about it this very week,” he noted.
Maki noted that the investigation results are well-timed because the state of Iowa is considering a reprehensible child labor bill that would allow children to work expanded hours and in hazardous work areas.
“Iowa bill S.F. 167 not only extends hours for teen work, it permits minors to work in highly hazardous areas like meatpacking loading docks and assembly areas,” said Maki. “It’s a cynical, dangerous bill that builds in liability waivers for employers against teen worker injuries that the legislative authors know will happen. We strongly oppose this bill.”
Other states, including Ohio and Minnesota, are considering bills to weaken hard-won child protections.
Maki also noted giant loopholes in U.S. child labor law that expose child workers on farms to great risks. “Our weak child labor laws allow kids who are only 12 to work unlimited hours on farms when school is not in session. We’ve met many 12-year-olds who work 70–80-hours a week in the summer and in stifling heat, performing back-breaking labor,” explained Maki. “A teen worker has to be 18 to perform hazardous work in the U.S. but in agriculture they only need to be 16,” he added.
“The presence of young children in farm work, makes it critical that U.S.DOL begin enhancing hazardous work rules for child workers in agriculture,” said Maki. “DOL succumbed to political pressure when it scuttled needed protections over a decade ago and since then has refused to honor its responsibility to protect kids from known work dangers.”
We have also been waiting for DOL to protect child tobacco workers who regularly become ill from nicotine absorption and poisoning, noted Maki. “You must be 21 to buy cigarettes in the U.S., why does U.S. law allow tobacco growers to hire 12-year-olds to harvest this toxic crop? DOL needs to do more to protect these vulnerable workers.”
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