The company that hired the kids to clean the meat plants keeps losing business

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A slaughterhouse-cleaning company found to employ more than 100 children to help sterilize dangerously sharp equipment like bone saws has continued to lose contracts with major meat producers since the investigation became public last fall.

For its part, Packers Sanitation Services Inc. said: Inc., or PSSI as it is known, has taken a number of steps to tighten employment practices, but says the growing number of child labor cases nationwide is likely related to the increase in the number of minors crossing US borders alone in recent years.

The scandal that followed the February announcement PSSI will pay a $1.5 million fine and reform its employment practices as part of an agreement with investigators It also prompted the Biden administration to urge the entire meat processing industry To take steps to ensure that children do not work in these factories either for meat companies or for contractors such as PSSI.

Federal investigators confirmed that children under the age of 13 were employed by PSSI at 13 plants in Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Texas. It was not immediately clear if any additional children were found working at the company because PSSI declined to answer that and government officials have not provided an update on the investigation since February.

The Labor Department has said there has been a 69% increase since 2018 in the number of children working illegally across the country, and it has more than 600 child labor investigations. Officials said they are particularly concerned about potential exploitation of immigrants who may not have a parent in the United States.

PSSI maintains that it prohibits the employment of children and the only way children can be employed is “through identity theft or willful fraud at a local factory. No matter why it occurs, it is our responsibility to address the problem.”

“As has been widely reported, the recent record rise in unaccompanied minors from abroad and the growing prevalence of identity theft have clearly exposed new vulnerabilities in the minor employment space across hundreds of different companies including ours,” PSSI spokesperson Ray Hernandez said.

Companies like PSSI face the difficult situation of having to reject applicants who appear to have valid identification when they want to hire workers, said David Beer, and they also need to be careful not to discriminate by imposing greater scrutiny on immigrants, an expert on immigration policy at the Cato Institute. Libertarian who advocates for more open immigration laws. The fact that more than half a million children have crossed the border without their parents since 2019 creates a large pool of minors who may be trying to get jobs.

“A 17-year-old, 16-year-old or even 15-year-old gets an ID card and the company needs workers, and it’s hard to monitor the police,” said Pierre. The meatpacking industry is always striving to find more workers. “If you are willing to do the work and have ID, you will be able to get a job.”

Cargill, Tyson Foods, and JBS have all terminated their contracts with PSSI at least some of their factories—particularly any factories that Department of Labor investigators confirmed children were working in—though Cargill went to great lengths and severed ties with Kieler, the Wisconsin-based company altogether. . Smithfield Foods, the meat processing giant, said it was closely examining its contracts with PSSI, which is currently cleaning about a third of the company’s 45 plants, to ensure all labor laws are being followed.

These four companies, along with National Beef, control 80% of the beef market and more than 60% of the pork market nationwide. National Beef did not respond to questions about its actions.

Cargill spokeswoman April Nelson said the company notified PSSI in March that it would terminate all 14 of its contracts because “we will not tolerate the use of underage labor within our facilities or our supplier network.”

Tyson and JBS officials also reiterated their commitment to eliminating child labor from their factories, and said each of their companies has terminated PSSI contracts at several plants. But they refused to provide specific figures on how many contracts they had and how many plants PSSI was still cleaning for them.

“Tyson Foods is committed to complying with all labor laws and holding those we do business with to the highest standards of accountability,” Dan Turton, senior vice president at Tyson, said in a letter to members of Congress about their child labor concerns. He promised that Tyson would ramp up its audits of contractors and continue to cooperate with federal officials to ensure its hiring meets all standards.

Major meat processors say they are looking to offer more cleaning work at their in-house plants, but will likely continue to rely on contractors in many places. Tyson, for example, said its workers clean about 40% of its plants.

PSSI wouldn’t say how many workers it laid off after losing contracts, but the way it describes itself on its website hints at job losses. PSSI now says it has about 16,500 employees nationwide working at more than 400 plants, down from more than 17,000 cited last fall before the investigation. However, it is still one of the largest detergents in food processing plants.

PSSI says it goes beyond what the formal court agreement requires to ensure no children work there. The company, which is owned by New York-based private equity firm Blackstone, named a new CEO who just took over last week after its longtime chief executive retired after 24 years.

PSSI has hired a former U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer to help beef up the training its managers receive to spot identity theft, and it has hired a former Department of Labor official to conduct unannounced monthly checks on its practices. The company has also set up a hotline for employees to report any concerns anonymously.

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