Crime, Law and Justice

Worthington meatpacker ends contract with cleaning firm accused in child labor probe

Person sprays water on stairs
In a photo included in the U.S. Department of Labor's lawsuit against PSSI, a worker at the JBS pork processing plant in Worthington uses a high-pressure hose to clean equipment.
U.S. Department of Labor

A Worthington, Minn., meatpacking facility has ended its contract with a Wisconsin cleaning company accused of hiring children as overnight cleaners.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development said in a layoff notice Tuesday that Packers Sanitation Services Inc., or PSSI, is cutting 121 jobs at the JBS pork plant.

The U.S. Labor Department alleges in a lawsuit filed in November that PSSI hired at least 50 minors to clean food processing plants across the country. In response, PSSI last week agreed to a permanent injunction prohibiting the practice.

A federal judge in Nebraska dismissed the lawsuit, but the Labor Department said in court documents that the investigation would continue.

According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development notice, PSSI plans to cease services at the Worthington plant on Jan. 22, after JBS terminated a contract that had been in place for 25 years.

The federal Labor Department’s initial civil complaint alleged that four minors, ages 16 and 17, had worked at the Worthington facility at the time investigators served search warrants and interviewed employees in mid-October.

JBS is also ending its contract at a beef slaughterhouse in Grand Island, Neb., where federal investigators found many of the alleged child labor violations.

In its complaint, the Labor Department said a PSSI employee, who was first hired at age 13, suffered “serious burns” from a cleaning chemical while working third shift at the Grand Island plant.

A PSSI spokesperson said in a statement that the decision by JBS is “disappointing news for the local teams and for PSSI,” and that the company 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.”

JBS, which federal investigators did not accuse of wrongdoing, did not respond to a request for comment about its decision.

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