DOL requests injunction against janitorial company employing minors at meat plants

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Department of Labor asked a federal court Feb. 21 to issue a temporary restraining order and injunction against Fayette Janitorial Service LLC regarding the illegal employment of minors. The janitorial company allegedly employed 15 children in Virginia and nine children in Iowa to clean and sanitize spaces at meat processing plants, on overnight shifts.
  • Minors used industrial chemicals to clean head splitters, jaw pullers, meat saws and neck clippers.
  • Fayette provides cleaning and sanitation services for meat and poultry processing plants in about 30 states, per the DOL, whose investigation into the company is ongoing.

Dive Insight:

Child labor continues to make headlines, as gruesome accidents and U.S. Department of Labor crackdowns come to the fore.

Nationally, the Fair Labor Standards Act restricts minors from being employed in dangerous occupations, “including most jobs in meat and poultry slaughtering, processing, rendering and packing establishments,” the DOL reiterated in its statement.

In January 2024, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued 17 citations to the Hattiesburg, Mississippi-based Mar-Jac Poultry plant responsible for the death of 16-year-old Duvan Perez in July 2023. That same month, another 16-year-old boy, Michael Schuls, died as a result of injuries on the job at a Florence, Wisconsin-based sawmill.

In Wisconsin, logging, along with other kinds of work, is prohibited for minors, per the states’s Department of Workforce Development; OSHA also issued citations to Florence Hardwoods, LLC in December 2023. 

Earlier this month, DOL’s Wage and Hour Division mandated that Packers Sanitation Services Inc in Kieler, Wisconsin, pay $1.5 million in civil penalties for allegedly employing at least 100 children in meat processing facilities. This includes JBS Foods, Turkey Valley Farms and Tyson Food Inc.

Beyond violations coming to light, child labor law remains a battleground as many state legislatures loosen restrictions around what kinds of child labor are allowed.

Republican lawmakers in Iowa passed legislation to roll back child labor protections in May 2023, allowing companies to employ 14- and 15-year-olds two additional hours per day when school is in session; 16- and 17-year-olds could then legally work an adult’s share of hours. 

Wisconsin Republicans also proposed changes to state child labor law in August 2023; if passed, 14- and 15-year-olds would not need parental permission or a permit for employment. 

Likewise, Republican lawmakers in Florida proposed a law where 16- and 17-year-olds would have less restrictions around their hours of employment. It passed in the state’s House of Representatives on Feb. 1 and waits to be confirmed in the Florida Senate.

“The employment of children in hazardous occupations is an egregious violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act that should never occur,” Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda said in a Feb. 21 statement.

She added, “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.”