Firm That Hired Kids to Clean Meat Plants Keeps Losing Work

Since the fall of last year, the slaughterhouse cleaning firm that employed more than 100 kids to help sanitize razor-sharp machinery like bone saws and sanitize it has lost contracts with major meat producers.

Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI) has said that it has tightened up its hiring procedures. However, it believes the rise in child labor cases in the United States is due to an increase in minors who have crossed the border in recent years.


The scandal that followed the February announcement by PSSI that it would pay $1.5 million in fines and reform its hiring policies as part of a deal with investigators prompted the Biden Administration to urge all meat processors to take steps to ensure that no children are working at these plants, either for meat companies or contractors like PSSI.

Federal investigators confirmed children as young as 13 worked for PSSI in 13 plants located in Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Texas. PSSI refused to provide an answer, and the government has not provided any updates on the investigation.

According to the Labor Department, there has been an increase of 69% in illegal child labor since 2018. It has 600 investigations into child labor underway. Officials are concerned about the exploitation of migrant workers who may not have a parent living in the United States.

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PSSI insists it does not hire children and that the only way it could have hired them was “through fraud or deliberate identity theft at a local factory.” We must deal with the issue, regardless of why it happened.

Ray Hernandez, PSSI’s spokesman, said: “As widely reported in the media, the record increase in unaccompanied minors coming from abroad as well as the rising prevalence of ID theft have clearly revealed new vulnerabilities within the area of child labor in hundreds of businesses. This includes ours.”

David Bier, a libertarian immigration expert from the Cato Institute, which advocates for open immigration laws, explained that companies like PSSI face a dilemma when it comes to hiring workers. They must turn away applicants with valid identification, but they cannot discriminate against immigrants by doing so. More than half a million children who have been separated from their parents and crossed the border since 2019 are likely to try to find work.

Bier explained that it is difficult to police when a teenager, teen, or 15-year-old gets an ID. The meatpacking industry always needs more workers. If you are willing to work hard and have an ID card, you will be able to get a job.

Cargill, Tyson Foods, and JBS all terminated their contracts with PSSI in at least some of the plants they operate — especially any plants where Labor Department inspectors found children working. Cargill took it a step further and completely cut off ties with Kieler, Wisconsin. Smithfield Foods said that it was reviewing its contracts with PSSI to make sure that labor laws were being adhered to. PSSI cleans approximately one-third of the 45 plants owned by Smithfield.

These four companies, together with National Beef, control more than 80% of the beef and pork markets in the United States. National Beef did not respond to any questions regarding its actions.

Cargill spokesperson April Nelson stated that the company informed PSSI of the termination of all 14 contracts in March because “we will never tolerate the use underage workers within our facilities or supply network.”

Officials from Tyson and JBS also reiterated that they are committed to eliminating child labor in their plants and said each company had terminated PSSI contracts for several plants. They declined to give specific numbers on how many contracts were cut or how many plants PSSI still cleans for them.

Dan Turton is a senior vice president at Tyson. In a letter addressed to Congress members, Dan Turton stated that Tyson Foods was committed to complying with all labor laws. He said Tyson would increase its audits of its contractors and work with federal officials to make sure its hiring met all standards.

Major meat processors have said they want to do more cleaning in-house but will continue to use contractors in most cases. Tyson, for example, stated that its workers clean around 40% of its facilities.

PSSI refused to say how many employees it laid off following the loss of contracts. However, the way the company describes itself on its site suggests that there have been job losses. PSSI says that it now has 16,500 employees in more than 400 facilities, down from more than 17,000 workers it claimed last fall. It remains one of the largest cleaners in food processing plants.

PSSI claims it goes above and beyond the requirements of an official court order to ensure that no children are employed there. The company, owned by New York-based private equity firm Blackstone, has a new CEO, who took over the position last week after the previous top executive retired.

PSSI brought in a former U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent to strengthen its training for its managers to detect identity theft. It also hired an ex-Labor Department official to perform monthly, unannounced audits of its practices. The company has also created a hotline where employees can anonymously report concerns.


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