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McDonald’s franchisee accused of overworking more than 100 youths

Thirteen McDonald’s restaurants illegally permitted 14- and 15-year-olds to work outside of legal hours, the Labor Department said

(Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News)

A Department of Labor investigation has found child labor violations involving more than 100 youths at McDonald’s locations in the greater Pittsburgh area.

McDonald’s franchisee Santonastasso Enterprises violated U.S. labor law by permitting scores of 14- and 15-year-olds to work outside of legal hours at 13 restaurants, the Labor Department said on Monday. In one case, a minor was permitted to illegally operate a fryer without the proper safety equipment.

The McDonald’s locations, Labor investigators said, broke the law by permitting 14- and 15-year-olds to work more than three hours a day, and after 7 p.m. on school days, as well as later than 9 p.m. during the summer. The agency also accused the company of illegally employing youths for more than eight hours a day on weekends and more than 18 hours a week during school weeks.

“Permitting young workers to work excessive hours can jeopardize their safety, well-being and education,” Labor Department official John DuMont said. “Employers who hire young workers must understand and comply with federal child labor laws or face costly consequences.”

Santonastasso was fined $57,000 for the child labor violations, according to the Labor Department.

In a Facebook video posted in 2021, franchisee owners John and Kathleen Santonastasso said they ran a “people first” company that offered a “fun” environment, flexibility and the opportunity to earn money for college. On Friday they said the company now has new procedures to prevent problems with schedules.

“We take our role as a local employer very seriously and we regret any scheduling issues that may have occurred at our restaurants,” John and Kathleen Santonastasso said in a statement.

McDonald’s said that while franchisees make local decisions around labor and employment practices, they are are expected to comply with laws and uphold the company’s values.

“McDonald’s and our franchisees do not take lightly the positive impact we can deliver – and therefore the profound responsibility we carry – when someone works at a McDonald’s, particularly as their first job,” the company said in a statement.

Dozens of youths illegally employed to clean meat plants, Labor Dept. says

The investigation follows a series of reports of the illegal use of child workers this year in other industries, including meatpacking and auto-parts manufacturing, amid a nationwide labor shortage. Across the country, employers across the country have been increasingly hiring younger workers. The trend has been particularly noticeable in sectors that lost many workers during the pandemic, such as restaurants.

Earlier this year, the Labor Department accused Alabama plants that manufacture auto parts for Hyundai and Kia of illegally using child labor after Reuters reported that a Hyundai subsidiary near Montgomery employed migrant youths as young as 12.

Another federal investigation found in November that one of the country’s largest providers of food safety sanitation illegally employed dozens of youths at several JBS-owned meatpacking plants in the Midwest. Investigators found that 13- and 14-year-olds suffered severe chemical burns while working with cleaning products on graveyard shifts.

The Fair Labor Standards Act includes a series of child labor laws enacted to protect minors’ well-being and educational opportunities, and to prevent them from working under dangerous conditions.

Between 2017 and 2021, investigators found child labor law violations in more than 4,000 cases, involving more than 13,000 minors, the Labor Department said Friday.