The Minnesota Department of Labor is taking legal action to stop a Watonwan County meat processing company from employing children in violation of state law. The agency has asked a district court to put a temporary restraining order into place until its investigation into the company is complete. According to the DOL, the company’s Madelia facility employs at least eight children and has employed many more. During daytime and overnight shifts, DOL officials say children as young as 13 years old completed dangerous tasks like operating meat grinders, ovens and forklifts.
The DOL launched its investigation after receiving a complaint. DOL officials were dispatched to the Madelia facility on Jan. 26 to conduct an onsite investigation. They interviewed workers in English and Spanish, inspected the facility and demanded documents from the company. They then compared the company IDs and time cards of young workers with records obtained from local schools. Investigators claim to have found at least eight current workers and several former workers who were employed by the company in violation of the Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act.
The Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act
The Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act allows employers to hire children, but it places restrictions on them. Children under 16 years of age cannot work befoe 7:00 a.m. or past 9:00 p.m., cannot work more than 40 hours in a workweek and cannot work shifts longer than eight hours. They are also prohibited from performing dangerous tasks like operating bone saws and forklifts. Employers that flout this law may also ignore other workplace safety rules, which can lead to accidents, injuries and workers’ compensation claims.
Officials tend to take a hard line when they find a long history of violations, so this company will probably face severe consequences. In addition to assessing civil penalties, the DOL can refer these matters to criminal prosecutors. The law gives DOL officials discretion when determining fines, but they are unlikely to take a lenient approach in this case because the children were allegedly ordered to complete dangerous tasks.