Minnesota meat company accused of hiring underage
(AP) — A meat processing company in Minnesota has hired children as young as 13 to work in hazardous conditions, such as meat grinders, while they work night shifts and longer than allowed by law, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry said Wednesday. .
The state agency is asking the district court to issue a temporary restraining order against Mankato-based Tony Downs Food Company while the allegations are investigated.
According to the complaint, the meat processing company employed at least eight children between the ages of 14 and 17 at its plant in Madelia. Investigators also identified other employees who were hired before they turned 18.
According to the complaint, the young employees, one of whom was 13 at the time of hiring, operated meat grinders, ovens and forklifts on night shifts and worked in areas where meat products are flash-frozen with carbon monoxide and ammonia. They also allegedly worked longer hours than allowed by law.
According to the complaint, company reports showed that some children were injured while working in hazardous areas.
Messages left after hours on Wednesday for Tony Downs Food Company were not returned immediately.
The announcement comes after Packers Sanitation Services Inc., one of the nation’s largest food processing cleaning companies, was fined more than $1.5 million in February for employing more than 100 children in dangerous jobs at 13 meatpacking plants across the whole country.
At least three young Packers Sanitation Services workers suffered burns from harsh cleaning chemicals while working at a JBS meatpacking plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, according to US Department of Labor officials.
According to the complaint, the investigation into Tony Downs began after the Minnesota Department of Labor received a complaint about working conditions at the Madelia plant. Investigators conducted an overnight inspection Jan. 26-27, interviewed workers, documented working conditions, and contacted local school districts. The company also provided employee records for February.
The Department of Labor found that Tony Downes was aware of the problem. It also became known that the minors were working under assumed names and were not native English speakers, according to the complaint.
“Child labor laws are in place to ensure that children come to work in a safe environment and that work contributes to the economic, social and educational development of our youngest workers,” DLI Commissioner Nicole Blissenbach said in a statement. “When child labor laws are violated, the best interests of our children are put aside in favor of the interests of the employer.”
The investigation is ongoing. The Department of Labor, which works with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, can issue injunctions, fines, and criminal charges against companies when warranted.
Minnesota law prohibits employers from hiring minors to work in hazardous conditions. Employers are also prohibited from requiring employees under 16 to work after 9 pm, more than eight hours a day, or more than 40 hours a week.
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