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Kidron chicken processing plant cooperating with federal investigation, reviewing policies

DGKN staff report

KIDRON  A longtime local chicken processing plant is cooperating with an investigation and reviewing policies at every level in light of federal agents reporting this month more than two dozen minors were found working illegally in the plant.

A story on by Julia Ainsley, Laura Strickler and Didi Martinez that posted Oct. 20 on the website and has since been reported by many other news agencies states that local immigration advocates told NBC News on condition of anonymity that the minors, mainly from Guatemala, were working in meat processing and sanitation. The NBC News story notes that under U.S. labor law, it is illegal for anyone younger than 18 to work in meatpacking facilities because of the increased risk of injury from dangerous machines and chemicals.

Immigration advocates told NBC News that agents from Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI surrounded the Gerber’s Poultry plant in Kidron Oct. 4 in the evening and shut down traffic into and out of the plant. NBC News reported the agents took photos of the workers, asked them where they got their documents showing their age and that they were legally allowed to work in the United States, and asked them to fill out questionnaires. 

According to a company statement provided to The DGKN over email this week: “Gerber’s Poultry has been a family-owned business for more than 70 years. It is our mission to treat our employees, customers, vendors, and community supporters with respect and to lead with honesty and integrity in everything we do. This includes complying with all federal, state, and local laws and regulations in employee hiring and retention. We also expect nothing less from our third-party vendors and community partners.

“As you may have seen, our Kidron, Ohio plant was the subject of inquiry from federal law enforcement, and public allegations have surfaced regarding the composition of our employees, and some third-party contract employees. We are cooperating fully with that investigation.”

The NBC News story stated a local resident who said he has relatives at the plant told NBC News he saw FBI agents surround the plant. He told NBC News that children work at the plant’s second shift to accommodate their school schedule. Neither the FBI nor HSI commented for the NBC News story. Local immigration advocates told NBC News they believe some of the children have been forced to work by nonrelated adults who have housed them and are taking some or all of their wages while others have voluntarily gone to work in meat processing and slaughterhouse sanitation because they want to earn money for themselves. The NBC News story stated no arrests appeared to be made at the time of the operation.  

“We take the legal employment and safety of all individuals who work for and with Gerber’s Poultry very seriously,” the company statement from Gerber’s Poultry continues. “We have taken a number of precautions to ensure that Gerber’s Poultry employees are legally authorized to work and have strict policies against hiring minors in accordance with industry guidelines, rules, and laws. While we comply with all federal regulations to verify eligibility for employment, we are actively reviewing our policies to ensure compliance at every level and will continue to review our relationships with third party vendors and their policies in similar fashion.

“We greatly value our relationship with all our customers, and will remain committed to producing our quality products in accordance with all applicable laws.”

In a story that appeared in the June 29, 2022 edition of The Dalton Gazette & Kidron News marking Gerber Poultry’s 70 years of history in the community, the processing facility and headquarters are on the same property in Kidron where the family began processing their farm-raised chicken, by hand, nearly three quarters of a century ago. Gerber’s Poultry now provides jobs to more than 500 workers with employees at the processing plant, office, farm techs, and Orrville chick hatchery; and supplies supplemental additional income to about 180 area farms that contract to raise approximately 3 million chickens a year.  The family-run business is known for supporting community events and fundraisers.

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