Department of Labor investigating Madelia meat processing company for alleged child labor

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry announced Wednesday that it has asked a district court to issue a temporary restraining order and injunction against Tony Downs Food Company in Madelia. This would stop the company from allegedly illegally employing children in hazardous occupations while DLI continues its investigation.

The DLI said that it found the meat processing company employs at least eight children ages 14-17, including one who was hired at 13 years old. The DLI also found that several other employees were hired before they turned 18 years old.

These employees allegedly perform hazardous tasks such as operating meat grinders, ovens and forklifts. The DLI claims they also work overnight shifts and in cold temperatures where meat products are flash-frozen using carbon dioxide and ammonia.

Injury reports from the company show that children have been injured while working in the hazardous conditions.

RELATED: Dept. of Labor alleges minors worked overnight shifts at Minnesota meatpacking plants

The DLI said that it conducted an on-site overnight investigation into Tony Downs Food Company on Jan. 26 into the early morning hours of Jan. 27. Investigators interviewed workers, documented working conditions and demanded records from the company.

“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,” said DLI Commissioner Nicole Blissenbach.

“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,” she added. “The consequences of child labor violations are substantial, from directly endangering safety and health to lifelong consequences related to impaired education access. It is our moral obligation to protect children, which is why our agency focuses its efforts strategically to initiate investigations in industries where child labor violations are most likely to occur.”

The Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act states that minors can’t be employed in hazardous occupations. It also restricts employers from having kids under 16 years old work after 9 p.m., over eight hours per day or over 40 hours per week.

Tony Downs Food Company sent the following statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS:

Today we were informed by the Minnesota Department of Labor that it has filed to obtain a temporary restraining order related to alleged employment of underage workers at our Madelia, Minn., plant.  At this time we are familiarizing ourselves with the details of the Department of Labor’s filing. Our intent is always to comply with the law and, based on what we learn, we will take any actions that are necessary to ensure that we do so. 

In keeping with our commitment to operating with the highest integrity and transparency, we have cooperated fully with the Minnesota Department of Labor’s investigation. 

We strive to ensure that all who work in our plant meet all required employment criteria, including being of legal age. People who are underage should be in schools, not working in manufacturing facilities. 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. 

We have an unwavering commitment to regulatory compliance. Comprehensive systems are in place to ensure complete compliance with Department of Labor and other regulatory agency policies and standards, this includes having systems in place to ensure all of our employees are legally able to work.