Image courtesy MN Dept. of Labor and Industry

On Wednesday, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) has asked a district court to issue a temporary restraining order and injunction against Tony Downs Food Company to stop illegally employing children in hazardous occupations while DLI continues its investigation into the company’s labor practices.

DLI found that Tony Downs Food Company, a meat processing company, employs at least eight children ranging from 14 to 17 years of age at its Madelia location. DLI also claims additional employees were hired to work for the company when they were younger than 18 years of age.

These employees, one of whom was only 13 years old when hired, perform hazardous work such as operating meat grinders, ovens and forklifts for the company during overnight shifts, which last until 1 or 2 a.m.

DLI also claims the minors work in cold temperatures where meat products are flash frozen using carbon dioxide and ammonia. The company’s injury reports showed children have been injured while working in these hazardous occupations.

In response to a complaint provided to DLI regarding the company’s practice of employing minors, DLI investigators conducted an overnight on-site investigation of Tony Downs Food Company on Jan. 26, and into the early morning of Jan. 27. DLI interviewed workers in Spanish, documented working conditions and demanded records from the company. DLI also contacted school districts in the area for additional information.

Following the on-site inspection, the company produced records to DLI throughout February 2023. The records included employee photographs and contact information, employee schedules and employee timecards. DLI initiated an intensive review of the company documents and the information provided by schools, comparing the data to identify employees under the age of 18.

DLI has a variety of enforcement tools at its disposal, including injunctions, penalties and criminal referrals, when warranted.

The Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act prohibits employers from employing minors in hazardous occupations. It also restricts employers from working minors under 16 years of age after 9 p.m., more than eight hours in a day or more than 40 hours in a week.