U.S. fines meat company that used two minors to run hazardous machinery at Minnesota factory
A 16-year-old and a 17-year-old operated hazardous meat processing equipment, in violation of child labor laws, at a Minnesota factory run by the national food manufacturer Monogram Food Solutions LLC, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The Labor Department fined Monogram $30,276 for employing the two minors at the Chandler factory, which makes meat snacks and refrigerated sausages.
The federal investigation was initiated based on leads obtained during a previous federal child labor investigation that found more than 100 minors cleaning slaughterhouses for a different company across the Midwest, according to a Labor Department spokesperson. That company said that the minors used false identification to obtain employment.
It’s legal for 16 to 18-year-olds to work many different jobs outside the home but they’re not allowed to do jobs that are deemed hazardous by the Labor Department, like meat processing, coal mining and roofing.
Jessica Looman, Labor’s principal deputy wage and hour administrator, said Monogram “should have never allowed two children to operate hazardous equipment. After our initial investigation, Monogram Meat Snacks and its parent company have agreed to take important steps to prevent future child labor violations.”
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The Labor Department also announced that, as part of the Monogram consent decree and judgment, it employed a rarely used provision known as the “hot goods provision” in March. That step halted the shipment of any goods that were made at the factory while the teens were employed. Monogram agreed to withhold shipments in late April, according to the agency, and the prohibition on shipping those goods lifted after the company paid the fine and the consent order and judgment were executed.
In late February, the department warned it could stop the shipment of goods made with child labor as part of a stepped up interagency enforcement initiative in response to a 69% increase in child labor violations nationwide since 2018.
“The [Fair Labor Standards Act] prohibits the shipment of goods that have been produced in violation of the law,” said to NBC News a Labor Department spokesperson, who called the hot goods provision “a powerful tool.”
Monogram spokesperson Liz McKee told NBC News the two teens found by Labor in its investigation used false identification to gain employment at the Chandler factory, which has 400 employees.
In a statement, the company said it “does not want, and has a zero-tolerance policy for, ineligible underage labor and we have fully cooperated with this process. We take our legal obligations and our longstanding commitment to compliance very seriously, and immediately terminated the two ineligible workers who appear to have used falsified documentation relating to their identity or age in the hiring process. We have voluntarily made significant and immediate companywide changes to our existing policies and procedures to prevent this from occurring in the future.”
As part of the agreement, Monogram has also agreed to hire a third-party consultant to monitor compliance with child labor laws.
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In addition, the company is now required to conduct a nationwide audit of its facilities within 90 days, to ensure no other minors are employed. The company must also set up a toll-free number for employees who need guidance on child labor compliance or who want to report violations. Company officials must also notify the Labor Department of any employee who quit or was terminated after March 29.
Monogram has 3,600 employees and operates 13 facilities in seven states. The private-equity firm Pritzker Private Capital acquired a significant stake in Monogram in 2021, according to a Pritzker release.
Earlier this year, another Minnesota meat processor, Tony Downs Foods Company, was found to have hired eight minors to work overnight shifts at its plant in Madelia, according to a complaint from the state’s Department of Labor and Industry.