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Kids Found to Be Working Overnight Shifts at Minnesota Meat Processing Plant

Investigators discovered children as young as 14 years working overnight shifts at the Tony Downs Food Company.

The Tony Downs Food Company in Madelia, Minnesota, is pictured on Google Street View.

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) has asked a district court for a temporary restraining order and injunction against Tony Downs Food Company, a meat processing company in Madelia, following allegations that the business violated child labor laws.

In a 16-page complaint, the DLI requested that the court file an order declaring that Tony Downs violated the Child Labor Standards Act (CLSA), legally enjoin the company from violating the CLSA in the future, and require Tony Downs to take necessary steps to redress current violations.

After receiving a complaint that there were children working at the meat processing company, the DLI initiated an investigation into the allegations. During the investigation, the state agency found that there were at least eight children working overnight shifts and engaging in hazardous work at the company, including operating large machinery such as meat grinders, ovens and forklifts. The agency was also informed that Tony Downs was aware that they were illegally employing minors.

Though the children were working under assumed names, the DLI was able to obtain their names and reach out to school officials about their wellbeing. School officials informed the agency that the students struggled with school and had fallen asleep or been tired during class. Some had missed school or dropped out of school altogether.

“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,” DLI Commissioner Nicole Blissenbach said in a news release. “The consequences of child labor violations are substantial, from directly endangering safety and health to lifelong consequences related to impaired education access.”

Food Safety News has reported that since late 2022, more than a dozen meatpacking companies have been investigated for child labor violations.

A federal investigation by the Department of Labor (DOL) has found that more than 100 children are illegally employed in hazardous jobs. Packers Sanitation Services, a company that places workers with meatpacking facilities to clean the food processing plants, was implicated in the DOL’s investigation and fined $1.5 million for violating federal child labor laws. The DOL investigation found children employed by Packers Sanitation Services working at companies like Tyson Food Inc., JBS Foods, Cargill Inc.

In response to this federal crackdown on child labor violations, states including Arkansas, Iowa, Ohio, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Wisconsin have introduced legislation that would loosen child labor laws and encourage companies to hire children in hazardous workplaces.

On March 7, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R-Arkansas) signed House Bill 1410 into law, which labor and child advocates say will roll back labor protections for children in the state, leading to an expanded child workforce and making it easier for companies to violate child labor laws. A week before Governor Sanders signed the bill, Tyson’s Green Forest plant in Arkansas was implicated in the DOL investigation for employing at least six children and was fined $90,828.

Earlier this month in Iowa, a bill that would loosen child labor laws in the state was recommended to pass committee. The legislation would allow kids to work in slaughterhouses and meat packing plants and exempt companies from civil liability if a student-worker is sickened, injured or killed due to a business’s negligence.

The bill has been condemned by community groups and Eschucha Mi Voz (Listen to My Voice), an organization that represents some Tyson workers in the state. Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement have urged legislators to kill the bill.

“Children shouldn’t be working in dangerous conditions or around hazardous materials. SF 167 opens the door for all sorts of exploitation, and skirts the real solution to our workforce shortage — better pay,” the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement group said in a statement.

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