“Working in a kitchen late at night near dangerous cooking equipment is a reality for many adults in the food service industry. But finding 10-year-old kids in such a work environment is a cause for concern and action by the U.S. Department of Labor.” That’s the opening of the Department of Labor’s statement on child-labor violations found at McDonald’s fast food franchises in 62 locations across Kentucky, Indiana, Maryland and Ohio. More than 300 children, including two 10-year-olds, were found working at McDonald’s franchises in violation of federal labor laws, according to the statement issued by the Department of Labor on Tuesday.
Investigators from the department found the 10-year-olds working in the kitchen of a McDonald’s restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky. But this is just one of the many child-labor violations committed by three McDonald’s franchises in that state. In February, The New York Times warned that child labor was on the rise, especially among migrant minors, who are hired to work in the assembly lines of factories of highly popular products, such as candy, snacks and textiles — often in dangerous positions. The ProPublica investigative organization reported the first cases in 2020.
But the discovery of two 10-year-olds working at McDonald’s is one of the most extreme cases of child exploitation in the United States. The three McDonald’s franchises in Kentucky have agreed to pay a total of $212,000 in fines for employing minors, said the Department of Labor statement.
One of the franchises, Bauer Food LLC — which manages 10 McDonald’s locations — employed “24 minors under age 16 to work more than legally permitted hours.” This figure included the two 10-year-olds. According to U.S. authorities, the children were not paid, and sometimes worked as late as 2 a.m. Their tasks included preparing and distributing food orders, cleaning the store, working at the drive-thru window and operating a register. Investigators also found that one of the two 10-year-olds was allowed to operate a deep fryer, a prohibited task for workers under 16 years old. For these violations, Bauer Food LLC was fined $39,711, according to the Department of Labor.
A second franchise, called Archways Richwood LLC — which operates 27 locations — “allowed 242 minors between age 14 and 15 to work beyond the allowable hours. Most worked earlier or later in the day than the law permits, and more than three hours on school days.” For these violations, the franchise was fined $143,566.
A third franchise, Bell Restaurant Group I LLC, — which operates 24 locations in Maryland, Indiana and Kentucky — employed 39 minors between the age 14 and 15, who also worked beyond the allowable hours. The franchise also allowed two of the children to work during school hours. For these violations, it was fined $29,267. Investigators also found the franchise failed to pay 58 workers overtime wages and as a result, they recovered $14,730 in back wages and liquidated damages.
The statement from the Department of Labor does not specify the nationality or origin of the exploited minors. Based on the New York Times report, the minors may be unaccompanied migrants, or migrant children supporting their families. Under federal law, 14- and 15-year-olds are allowed to work as long as it is performed outside of school hours, and is for no more than three hours on a school day, and no more than eight hours on a weekend or holiday. Minors can also not start work earlier than 7 a.m. or later than 7 p.m.
While the majority of child-labor violations involve minors working longer hours and later than permitted, the Department of Labor found 688 minors illegally employed in hazardous occupations in the fiscal year 2022 — the highest annual count since the fiscal year 2011. One of the minors was a 15-year-old boy who was injured while using a deep fryer at a McDonald’s in Morristown, Tennessee, in June 2022.
“One child injured at work is one too many. Child labor laws exist to ensure that when young people work, the job does not jeopardize their health, well-being or education,” Karen Garnett-Civils, Wage and Hour Division District Director, said in the statement.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition