OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A second company involved in meat processing has agreed to reform its hiring practices after investigators recently discovered teenagers working there.
The Labor Department said Friday that Monogram Foods will pay a more than $30,000 fine as part of an agreement reached after a 16-year-old and 17-year-old were found to be working at the Memphis, Tennessee-based company's Chandler, Minnesota, plant. Officials also ordered the company not to ship any products produced while the teens were employed at the plant that makes a variety of meat snacks, but normal operations resumed once they were fired.
Earlier this year, a separate investigation found more than 100 kids working overnight for a company that cleans slaughterhouses, handling dangerous equipment like skull splitters and razor-sharp bone saws. Packers Sanitation Services Inc., or PSSI, agreed earlier this year to pay a $1.5 million fine and update its hiring practices after investigators confirmed at least 102 kids were working for the company at 13 meat processing plants nationwide.
The Labor Department said it would focus on the problem in response to that PSSI investigation and a nationwide 69% increase in the number of children found to be employed illegally across all industries since 2018. The Biden administration also urged all meat processing companies to make sure children aren't being hired to do dangerous work at their plants.
"The Department of Labor and the Biden-Harris administration see child labor as a scourge in this country and will not tolerate violations of child labor laws," Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda said.
Monogram Foods said in a statement that the investigation found only two out of more than 400 workers at the plant were underage and that it appears they used falsified documents to get hired. An audit didn't find any other juveniles working at Monogram's 12 other plants in Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.
"Our company does not want, and has a zero-tolerance policy for, ineligible underage labor and we have fully cooperated with this process," Monogram Foods said. "We take our legal obligations and our longstanding commitment to compliance very seriously, and immediately terminated the two ineligible workers."
The company that employs about 4,000 people nationwide produces a variety of private label meat snacks, appetizers, sandwiches, corn dogs and other convenience products. It is owned by private equity firm Pritzker Private Capital.
Monogram agreed to hire a consultant to review its hiring practices, recommend any needed changes and monitor compliance with labor laws at all the company's plants over the next two years. The company said it also tightened up its hiring practices and will train managers to help them spot any possible underage workers.
Monogram said it will also set up a hotline where employees can anonymously report any concerns about labor law violations.