Monthly Archives: January 2023

Child Labor in the United States

File:Pig carcasses in a Los Angeles meat packing plant.jpg

Workers with pig carcasses at Los Angeles meat packing plant (1945), Source https://digital.library.ucla.edu/catalog/ark:/21198/zz0002qn8w, Author Los Angeles Daily News (CC-BY-4.0 International)

The term “child labor” conjures up images of 19th Century sweat shops.  If meat packing plants are mentioned, some of us may recall Upton Sinclair’s 1905 expose The Jungle [1].

Few of us would imagine that child labor practices are still engaged in today.  Unfortunately, that is the case.

Cleaning Slaughterhouses

The Labor Dept. in December settled a civil suit against Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI) for the violation of child labor laws [2].

Investigators had found some 50 children (one as young as 13 y.o.) employed by PSSI cleaning slaughterhouses at 5 different locations in Nebraska and Michigan.  An earlier investigation in Kansas was dropped when necessary records could not be obtained.

“Oppressive Child Labor” Standards

The Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits “oppressive child labor” [3].  Labor Dept. regulations identify many positions in slaughterhouses and meat packing plants as hazardous for minors.

In particular, the “kill floors” in meat packing facilities are known to have slippery surfaces from animal fat, hot water, and soap [4A].  Though safety equipment is required for their use, strong cleaning chemicals can cause caustic burns from exposure.

No Penalties or Fines

Despite all this, the Labor Dept. issued no penalties or fines to PSSI [4B]. Continue reading

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