By JUDI CHENG
Officials in Iowa are accusing the largest kosher meat processing plant in the country, Agriprocessors Inc., of illegally employing child laborers under unsafe conditions. Fifty-seven children between the ages of 14 and 17, who were mostly immigrants from Latin America, worked with knives and saws, were exposed to hazardous chemicals, and even worked in the plant’s slaughterhouse.
Some children said that they had to work long hours, night shifts and 17-hour days. Children worked on racing assembly lines cutting meat or poultry. The meat processing plant offered little safety training and no overtime. “I was very sad,” said Elmer L., a worker from Guatemala who started working at the plant when he was 16, according to the New York Times, “and I felt like I was a slave.”
It is against federal law for workers younger than 18 to work in meat or poultry plants slaughtering animals and packing meat. The child labor violations were uncovered after the federal government conducted the nation’s largest-ever, single-site immigration raid on the meat processing plant. While the company faces $500,000 to $1 million in fines for employing child laborers, most of the immigrants arrested in the raid are now serving five-month jail sentences for working in the United States illegally and will be deported when they are released.