Food & Drinks

Temporary Restraining Order extended in child labor case involving large meat company

A preliminary injunction that prevents a labor contracting firm from providing child labor to JBS in Grand Island, NE, has been extended to Dec. 7. The preliminary injunction is against Wisconsin-based Packers Sanitation Services Inc. Ltd.

Secretary of Labor Martin J. Walsh on Nov. 9, 2022, sued Packers Sanitation alleging the labor contractor is violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by employing “oppressive child labor” used in overnight shifts by the JBS Grand Island plant. The Secretary of Labor sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction pending further investigation of the matter.

Judge John Gerrard of the U.S. District Court for Nebraska granted the temporary restraining order under a preliminary injunction on Nov. 10, 2022. It was originally set for hearing on Nov 23, 2022, but was continued to Dec. 7, 2022, by an amended order from the judge on Nov. 17, 2022.

The amended order says additional evidence at the hearing “is neither required nor expected.” An evidentiary hearing has not been set and if either party expects to bring forward evidence at the hearing, they should advise the court that it is necessary.

Packers Sanitation wants “expedited discovery” and scheduling orders for witness and exhibit lists. The defendant argues that without discovery it will be deprived of the opportunity to respond to the preliminary injunction.

The Department of Labor has used search warrants to obtain information, including the identities of employees involved. Before the Dec. 7 hearing, Packers Sanitation wants copies of those documents and other evidence now in the DOL’s possession, including identification of child employees involved.

According to DOL, children working overnight at the JBS meat packing plant in Grand Island, NE, were required to clock in and out of their shifts by entering their ID number into a biometric time lock. The time clock takes pictures of each employee’s face, using facial recognition technology to log in and out each employee for each shift.

Upon clocking in, the children would trade their normal street clothes for JBS badges, raincoats, waterproof overalls, or pants along with hard hats, goggles, gloves, and earplugs. 

After overnight shifts, the child laborers report being tired at school the next day.

The child labor services JBS was reportedly buying are specifically prohibited but were being acquired in significant quantities. JBS got its child labor from Packers Sanitation Services Inc. LTD, a labor contractor based in Wisconsin with offices in Grand Island. 

For the meat industry, Packers Sanitation is a source of cleaning and sanitation services. While the ID badges and work attire may all say “JBS,” they are Packers Sanitation employees. The numbers involved are not insignificant. Packer’s Sanitation was providing 190 workers at JBS in Grand Island.– 64 on the kill floor and 126 on the harvesting side. At the JBS pork plant in Worthington, MN, another 110 Packer’s Sanitation employees were reporting for work

The DOL investigation has found that a total of 31 children between the ages of 13 and 17 have worked for PSSI at the JBS USA plants in Grand Island, NE, and in Worthington, MN, as well as a Turkey Valley Farms plant in Marshall, MN.

The Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits an employer from employing “any oppressive child labor in commerce or in production of goods for commerce or in any enterprise engaged in commerce or in the production of foods for commerce.” “Oppressive child labor” includes any child under 16 years of age or between 16 and 18 years of age in any occupation, the Secretary of Labor declares to be particularly hazardous or detrimental to the children’s well-being.

The Labor Secretary has declared several occupations in the operation of power-driven meat-processing machines and occupations involving slaughter and meat and poultry packing, processing, and rendering to be hazardous and detrimental to children between 16 and 18.

Food and agriculture are among the sectors of the economy experiencing labor shortages. 

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