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Scripps News Investigates: One City’s Not-So-Secret Child Labor Problem

Scripps News Investigates: One City’s Not-So-Secret Child Labor Problem

When federal officials recently fined a food sanitation company 13 meat processing plants have been found to be employing underage workers in hazardous jobs, the US Department of Labor said, indicating that there will be no tolerance for child labor in the US.

And yet a Scripps News investigation found that one location in Grand Island, Neb., likely had child labor for years before the Department of Labor discovered it and intervened last year, eventually closing Packers Sanitation Services, Identified 27 minors illegally employed by Inc. A local beef plant.

PSSI was the contractor at the time responsible for the daily cleaning of the JBS USA-owned factory.

“Some minors used to pass through the corridor from the area where I work,” said the 65-year-old JBS employee. He spoke in Spanish through an interpreter. He asked not to be identified out of concern that he would jeopardize his job by speaking to the press.

He described the work of cleaning blood and animal parts on the kill room floor and cleaning food processing equipment with harsh chemicals.

“Those who clean the plant work with a lot of chemicals,” he said. “I don’t know how old they were, but, yeah, they looked a little young. If it’s dangerous for me as an adult, it’s more dangerous for them.”

JBS USA terminated its contract with PSSI after the Department of Labor announced the results of its child labor investigation.

Federal court records in the case against PSSI, obtained by Scripps News, report that teens doused themselves with caustic cleansers at night, then went to school and fell asleep in class.

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A Labor Department filing states that a 17-year-old boy dropped out of high school because he was too tired to clean.

Another document in the case states that the underage workers were employed by PSSI in Grand Island since at least 2019.

Interviews with residents revealed that the problem of child labor goes back much longer than that.

Audrey Lutz, who grew up in Grand Island, said, “I have fond memories of classmates falling asleep at school because they were working nights.”

Lutz was the longtime executive director multicultural allianceA local group that helps new immigrants settle in a city.

He also met some underage workers identified by the Labor Department.

This report by Patrick Terpstra, Karen Rodriguez and Daniel Lathrop of Scripps News.

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