Blackstone private equity funds own Packer Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI), which earlier this year was found violating child labor laws at 13 meat processing plants in eight states.

In some instances, child labor was employed to perform food safety jobs such as cleaning dangerous equipment. Blackstone’s PSSI paid fines totaling $1.5 million for providing child labor for critical food safety jobs at the 13 meat plants.

In cleaning up the scandal, however, PSSI is getting help from an unlikely source.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million food industry employees in North America, was not involved in any PSSI child labor schemes. But the union is apparently willing to help PSSI with the after-scandal cleanup.

And the giant union also helped the world’s largest protein producer, JBS, by going into the business with it to provide contract cleaning.

“The UFCW is proud to announce that we have reached an agreement with PSSI to offer union representation at PSSI locations across the country,” said the union’s International President Marc Perrone “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.

“Of course, the choice to unionize is with PSSI’s hard-working employees and since we have entered this agreement, two of PSSI’s locations in Liberal, Kansas, and Mason City, Iowa have decided to join our union family.

“Meatpacking and food processing workers risked their lives during the height of the pandemic to ensure that families had food on their tables. These workers have earned and deserve the protections that come with a strong union contract and with this agreement, we are one step closer to getting them the contractual protections enjoyed by UFCW members throughout the meatpacking industry.”

UFCW is the largest private-sector union in the United States. UFCW International represents 1.3 million professionals and their families in healthcare, grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops, and other industries. 

Earlier there was the announcement that JBS USA and United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) are now partners in JBS Sanitation, a full-service food safety and food plant sanitation company that will provide in-house sanitation services for JBS USA and Pilgrim’s facilities.

JBS is transitioning 10 facilities to JBS Sanitation and plans to move additional facilities to the new company whenever third-party service providers are unable to meet JBS USA’s audit and compliance standards.

JBS claims it terminated contracts with third-party sanitation provider PSSI at numerous facilities, including the locations cited in the Department of Labor’s complaint. Those locations include Grand Island, NE; Worthington, MN; and Greeley, CO.. 

“In light of the troubling allegations that have occurred in the food sanitation sector, JBS USA has made the decision to create a company that can provide the highest levels of food safety and quality assurance, while also adopting the same high standards for compliance and employment verification that we adhere to in the hiring of our own JBS USA workforce,” said Wesley Batista Filho, chief executive at JBS.

“The revelations about child labor among subcontractors in meatpacking plants are simply unacceptable, and it has been heartening to see JBS USA’s willingness to proactively move to address this egregious situation,” said Marc Perrone, UFCW International president. “We firmly believe that a strong union contract is the solution to the exploitation of any workers in the industry and are pleased to be partnering with JBS USA on in-house sanitation at a number of facilities across the country, which means sanitation workers will now receive the strong wages, benefits, and protections as other union members in those facilities. We look forward to continuing our work with JBS USA to ensure a safe food supply and safe working environment for our members.”

The new JBS-UFCW venture promises to be different with an internal whistleblower hotline, where employees can confidentially report any suspicious activity regarding the presence of underaged workers. The company is also giving local school districts access to the JBS Ethics Line for confidential reporting regarding suspected child labor incidents.

Technical services at the new JBS Sanitation are being led by Alfred “Al” Almanza, Head of Food Safety and Quality Assurance for JBS Global, 

Prior to joining JBS in 2017, Almanza spent nearly 40 years with USDA, including a decade as Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), and as Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety during the Obama Administration. 

“Sanitation is a key component to producing safe, affordable, healthy food,” said Almanza. “It requires specific expertise and extensive training to be done safely. Our focus at JBS Sanitation will be the safety of the food we provide, the safety of the men and women who provide sanitation services, and creating opportunities for our team members.” 

The bottom line is the food industry’s biggest union has now twice come to the assistance of a company owned by the world’s largest capitalists to make repairs after an embarrassing scandal.

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