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Packers Sanitation Services Inc. has appointed a new CEO amid fallout from a Labor Department investigation that found more than 100 children illegally working dangerous jobs for PSSI cleaning slaughterhouses in 13 locations across eight states.
The new CEO, Tim Mulhere, will take over at the end of April for retiring CEO Dan Taft, according to a company news release.
PSSI has also been the subject of investigative stories by NBC News, including one that revealed the company had hired the same minor twice.
The company, owned by the Blackstone private-equity firm, said it is also launching a new $10 million fund to “enhance the well-being of children in the communities we serve and helping reduce the prevalence of the rising problem of underage workers.” The company said the fund will aid “direct community services in legal aid, education, poverty reduction, and health services.”
The company has denied knowingly hiring child labor and said in the past the only way that a minor could have been employed was through rogue attempts to use fake identification. According to PSSI, it “has a zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under the age of 18, and fully shares the DOL’s objective of ensuring full compliance at all locations.”
But on Wednesday the company wrote in a statement, “Regardless of the reason [the violations] occurred, however, it is our responsibility to fix the problem.”
The company said it’s also beefing up internal training on age verification and hiring outside consultants who are former officials at Customs and Border Protection and the Labor Department.
The new CEO, Mulhere, said: “I am pleased to take on this new position as CEO of PSSI. The company and its devoted employees play a mission-critical role together with its valued customers protecting the health and safety of our nation’s food supply chain. Our focus as a team moving forward will be on continuing to invest in the highest standards possible for safety, compliance, and world-class service.”
NBC News previously reported that the Department of Homeland Security has been investigating whether or not a human smuggling scheme brought migrant children to work in multiple slaughterhouses for multiple companies across multiple states, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the investigation.
At the heart of the investigation is determining how Central American children, some as young as 13, wound up working dangerous jobs that are legal only for American adults by presenting identification stolen from U.S. citizens, the officials said.
So far the DHS investigation is focused on smugglers who may have provided the children with false identities and possibly led them to dangerous jobs. The companies themselves are not targets of the investigation, the officials said.
The Labor Department investigation into PSSI and NBC News coverage has also sparked inquiries from the New York state comptroller and two Senate queries.
Advocates who have helped the children who worked at PSSI told NBC News the children are unmistakably minors and small in stature as well as very vulnerable.
Audrey Lutz, formerly with the Multicultural Coalition in Grand Island, Nebraska, told NBC News earlier this year, “There is a large number of unaccompanied minors in our state with very little resources, and without public, private or philanthropic resources these kids go off the radar and become very, very vulnerable to things like trafficking.”
Laura Strickler is a senior investigative producer and reporter for NBC News. She is based in Washington.
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