US company hired children to clean dangerous equipment in meat plants

The news comes days after officials announced a major food safety and sanitation company illegally employed 102 children in hazardous conditions.
A sign stands outside the U.S. Department of Labor's headquarters
Posted at 7:21 PM, Feb 21, 2024

The U.S. Department of Labor has accused a company that provides janitorial services for industrial slaughterhouses of illegally employing children to clean hazardous equipment in meat-processing plants during overnight shifts.

On Wednesday, DOL announced that it asked an Iowa federal court to “issue a nationwide temporary restraining order and injunction” against Fayette Janitorial Service, based in Somerville, Tennessee, to halt them from hiring minors illegally as the department continues their investigation.

According to the filing, Fayette hired 15 children, some as young as 13, for overnight shifts in Virginia, and nine in Iowa to clean dangerous equipment like head-splitters and meat bandsaws, resulting in a severe injury to a 14-year-old in Virginia.

“The employment of children in hazardous occupations is an egregious violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act that should never occur,” said Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda in a press release. “The Department of Labor continues to use every available legal resource to protect workers and end child labor violations. We are working diligently with other federal agencies to combat child labor exploitation nationwide.”

The news comes days after DOL announced that another major food safety and sanitation company illegally employed 102 children in hazardous conditions across 13 facilities in eight states. Three of these minors, one only 13 years old, suffered injuries including chemical burns. 

“Our investigation found Packers Sanitation Services’ systems flagged some young workers as minors, but the company ignored the flags. 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,” said DOL administrator Michael Lazzeri in a press release.

The company, Packers Sanitation Services Inc. based in Wisconsin, was fined approximately $1.5 million, or $15,138 per illegally employed minor.

Fayette provides sanitation services for meat and poultry plants in 30 states, including Perdue Farms and Seaboard Triumph Foods, with over 600 workers.

This investigation is part of the DOL’s Interagency Task Force to Combat Child Labor Exploitation, established in 2023 to protect children from exploitation. So far, the task force has found violations in 955 cases, resulting in over $8 million in penalties for employers.

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