Wichita State alumna is national finalist for Service to America Medal

Shannon Rebolledo

Last year, Shannon Rebolledo ’01/02 was one of three team leaders on the U.S. Department of Labor’s investigation into illegal child labor practices at 13 meat slaughterhouses across eight states, leading to a large civil penalty and a new approach to child labor law enforcement. This month, the Wichita State graduate is among the finalists for a 2024 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal.

In February 2023, Rebolledo, regional enforcement coordinator in the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, was one of three leading investigators who discovered child labor violations that involved 102 children, ages 13 to 17. The children were illegally performing sanitation work involving the operation of dangerous machinery at meat-packing facilities in Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Tennessee and Texas. The shocking findings, which received international media attention – including coverage in the NY Times, Washington Post and a segment on CBS News’ 60 Minutes – prompted the launch of a national initiative to more effectively deal with exploitative child labor practices.

“I will never forget the faces of these kids whose lives and safety were in danger working under such horrendous conditions,” Rebolledo says. Despite the U.S.’s Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which prohibits minors from working in hazardous occupations, Rebolledo, along with Nancy Alcantara and Justin Uphold, who all work out of the Labor Department’s regional office based in Chicago, uncovered several instances of children suffering injuries while employed by the cleaning company that serviced the meat-packing plants. The child-labor violations resulted in the food sanitation contractor paying $1.5 million in penalties.

For their development of a broad investigative strategy to combat illegal child labor practices and obtain nationwide compliance in child labor laws, Rebolledo, Alcantara and Uphold are finalists for a Service to America Medal, part of an awards program run by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. Collectively known as the “Sammies,” the service awards honor excellence and innovation in federal service. Rebolledo and her colleagues are finalists in the Safety, Security and International Affairs Category.

All finalists are also eligible for the People’s Choice Award, with members of the public encouraged to vote for the winner online. The People’s Choice selection is based solely on the total number of votes each finalist receives and is separate from the selection of the category award winners. Winners will be announced in September.

Rebolledo, who holds both master’s and bachelor’s degrees in Spanish language and literature from Wichita State and has also completed post graduate studies in Spanish at Texas Tech University, is a Wichita resident. She has worked for the Department of Labor for just over 19 years, starting in 2005 as a wage hour investigator.

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