By Tom Polansek
CHICAGO (Reuters) – More than 200 workers who clean meat plants have unionized after their employer paid U.S. fines for hiring children to do dangerous jobs sanitizing slaughterhouses, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union said on Thursday.
The union said it now represents Packer Sanitation Services Inc (PSSI) employees who clean a Smithfield Foods plant in Mason City, Iowa, and a National Beef Packing Co plant in Liberal, Kansas.
The UFCW continues to organize at other facilities after the 220 PSSI employees unionized, said Mark Lauritsen, UFCW’s vice president and director of the food processing. The union added that it reached an agreement with PSSI to offer representation to employees across the country.
PSSI contracts with meatpacking companies to provide cleaning services at slaughterhouses. The company said it recognized its employees’ decision to choose UFCW as their bargaining representative at the plants.
PSSI said it has more than 15,000 employees nationwide at over 400 plants. About 3,500 are under the UFCW’s jurisdiction, according to the union.
In February, the U.S. Department of Labor said PSSI paid $1.5 million in penalties for employing more than 100 teenagers in jobs at meatpacking plants in eight states. The children worked overnight shifts and used hazardous chemicals to clean dangerous meat processing equipment such as brisket saws.
“The problems we have witnessed in the industry must firmly remain a thing of the past and we believe that good, strong, union contracts are crucial to protecting all meatpacking and food processing workers,” UFCW President Marc Perrone said.
Smithfield, the world’s largest pork processor, said PSSI cleans less than half its processing plants, including the facility in Mason City, Iowa. The meat company, owned by Hong Kong’s WH Group, is evaluating options for its sanitation contracts, spokesman Jim Monroe said.
National Beef had no immediate comment.
Other meatpackers including JBS USA and Cargill Inc have said they were ending contracts with PSSI.
(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by David Gregorio)
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