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Minnesota labor commissioner accuses meat processing plant of illegally employing minors

(The Center Square) – The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry is asking a district court to stop a meat processing company from illegally employing minors.

The DLI said in its complaint that Tony Downs Food Company employs at least eight minors at its processing plant in Madelia. According to the department, the company has worked children past midnight, more than eight hours a day, and more than 40 hours in a week, in violation of the Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act. A 14-year-old employee began working for the company at age 13, and, based on injury records Tony Downs produced to DLI, one of the employees who’s a minor has also been injured on the job, the department said.

“DLI was also informed that Tony Downs was aware of the issue,” the complaint said. “DLI also learned that the minors were working under assumed names and were not native English speakers.”

DLI said it received a complaint regarding the company. Investigators toured the facility after 11 p.m. Jan. 26 and interviewed workers in Spanish, documented working conditions, and demanded records from the company. Two of the employees indicated they had high school the following day. DLI contacted local schools for more information, and Tony Downs provided employee records to DLI in February. DLI compared the data to identify underage employees.

Tony Downs Food Company Vice President of Human Resources told The Center Square in an emailed statement Thursday that the company’s reviewing the department’s filing and intends to respond to the allegations as soon as possible. He said the company’s fully cooperating with the department’s investigation.

“Our intent is always to comply with the law and, based on what we learn, to swiftly take any actions that are necessary to ensure that we do so,” Ross said.

He said the company strives to ensure workers meet all required employment criteria, including being of legal age and it uses the federal government’s E-Verify system to confirm applicants’ identify and eligibility to work in the U.S. 

“People who are underage should be in schools, not working in manufacturing facilities,” he said. “The Department of Labor has yet to provide us with the names of employees they allege are under age 18 so that we may terminate their employment. We intend to take decisive action to root out what may have enabled any underage workers to circumvent our hiring process and verification requirements which include providing government-issued photo IDs as evidence that they were 18 or older.”

DLI Commissioner Nicole Blissenbach asked the court to declare that Tony Downs has violated the Child Labor Standards Act, permanently enjoin and restrain the company from violating the act and require the company to redress and prevent violations, which may include reviewing policies, training employees and auditing compliance with the act.

“Child labor laws exist so that when children are introduced to employment, it is in a safe environment and the work advances the economic, social and educational development of our youngest workers,” Blissenbach said. “When child labor laws are violated, the best interests of our children are being tossed to the wayside to advance the interests of an employer. The consequences of child labor violations are substantial, from directly endangering safety and health to lifelong consequences related to impaired education access.”

DLI said that upon information and belief, Tony Downs is still violating child labor laws by employing high school students beyond legal working hours.


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