MADELIA, Minn. (AP) - A meat processing company in Minnesota on Friday agreed to pay $300,000 in penalties after an investigation found it employed children as young as 13 to work in hazardous conditions, such as operating meat grinders, while they worked overnight shifts and longer hours than allowed by law.
Tony Downs Food Company, based in Mankato, also agreed to obey child labor laws and hire a compliance specialist as part of a consent order with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.
"In this case, Tony Downs has agreed to take important steps to prevent child labor violations," department Commissioner Nicole Blissenbach said in a statement. "All employers should provide training to their employees to help recognize potential child labor violations and take steps to ensure they are not employing children in violation of state and federal laws."
The agency says the meat processing company employed at least eight children ranging from ages 14 to 17 at its plant in Madelia. Investigators also have identified other employees who were hired before they were 18 years old, the department said.
The young employees, one of whom was 13 years old when hired, operated meat grinders, ovens and forklifts on overnight shifts and also worked in areas where meat products are flash frozen with carbon monoxide and ammonia, according to the complaint. They also allegedly worked longer hours than permitted by law, and some were injured.
Tony Downs "disputes and does not admit the violations of law alleged" by the labor department, according to the agreement.
The investigation into Tony Downs began after the Minnesota labor department received a complaint about working conditions at the Madelia plant, according to the complaint. Investigators conducted an overnight inspection between Jan. 26 and Jan. 27, interviewed workers, documented working conditions and contacted area school districts. The company also provided employee records through February.
The labor department found that Tony Downs was aware of the issue. It also learned that minors were working under assumed names and were not native English speakers, according to the complaint.
Minnesota law prohibits employers from hiring minors to work in hazardous conditions. Employers also are prohibited from requiring employees under the age of 16 to work after 9 p.m., more than eight hours a day or more than 40 hours a week.