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 .
Few of us would imagine that child labor practices are still engaged in today. Unfortunately, that is the case.
The Labor Dept. in December settled a civil suit against Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI) for the violation of child labor laws .
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” . 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].
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of Homeland Security, is now investigating whether these children — most unable to speak English — were provided false identification papers and forced by traffickers to work for PSSI [4C].
Interest was triggered by the fact a number of the children were so called “unaccompanied migrants”, who had been sent across the border without their parents, then matched with sponsors.
Rural counties across the country have become home to many such minors [4D]. Often, these counties have few governmental or philanthropic resources (something that has not escaped traffickers).
It is said that the wheels of justice grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine. For the sake of these children and others like them, we can only hope that is true.
 Wikipedia, “The Jungle”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jungle
 NBC News, “Food sanitation company accused of employing at least 31 children on graveyard shifts in slaughterhouses” by Julianne McShane, 11/11/22, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/food-sanitation-company-accused-employing-least-31-children-graveyard-rcna56758.
 Labor Dept., “Fact Sheet #2A: Child Labor Rules for Employing Youth in Restaurants and Quick-Service Establishments under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)” by US Labor and Hour Division, July 2010, https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/WHD/legacy/files/whdfs2a.pdf.
[4A through 4D] NBC News, “The federal government is investigating the possible human trafficking of children who cleaned slaughterhouses” by Laura Strickler and Julia Ainsley, 1/19/23, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/feds-dhs-investigating-human-trafficking-children-slaughterhouses-rcna66081.
Canada has agreed to settle a $2.9 billion class action suit for the loss of indigenous language and culture resulting from its mandatory residential school system. Many of the Native American children involved sustained emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, as well.
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