McDonald’s operator accused of child labor violations involving more than 100 teens

A federal investigation found child labor violations involving scores of teenagers at more than a dozen McDonald’s locations in and around Pittsburgh. 

McDonald’s franchisee Santonastasso Enterprises broke U.S. labor laws in allowing 14- and 15-year-olds to work outside of legal hours at 13 restaurants, the U.S. Department of Labor said on Monday.

The violations involved 101 minors and included having them work more than three hours a day and after 7 p.m. on school days, as well as working more than 18 hours during the regular school week, according to the agency.

In one case, a child under the age of 16 operated a deep fryer, which was not equipped with a device to automatically lower and raise the baskets, the DOL stated.

“Permitting young workers to work excessive hours can jeopardize their safety, well-being and education,” John DuMont, the DOL’s wage and hour district director in Pittsburgh, said in a statement. “Employers who hire young workers must understand and comply with federal child labor laws or face costly consequences.”

Owned by John and Kathleen Santonastasso, the company paid a civil penalty of $57,332. 

When asked for comment, the McDonald’s corporation responded with an emailed statement attributed to John and Kathleen Santonastasso. 

“We take our role as a local employer very seriously and we regret any scheduling issues that may have occurred at our restaurants. Our biggest priority is always the safety and well-being of our employees and we have since instituted a series of new and enhanced processes and procedures to ensure employees are scheduled appropriately,” the couple stated.

The corporate entity behind the Golden Arches then followed with another emailed statement to be attributed to McDonald’s USA:

“While franchisees make local decisions for their businesses, including around labor and employment practices, they must comply with all state and federal laws, and we expect them to uphold our values in everything they do. 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,” it stated.

Other McDonald’s franchisees have faced the same allegations and similar fines this year. A McDonald’s franchisee who operates restaurants in Vermont and New Hampshire was fined almost $110,000 in September for violating child labor laws. Another McDonald’s franchisee in February agreed to pay almost $26,000 for child labor violations in California’s Orange County, where minors allegedly performed hazardous work, including loading and operating indoor trash compactors.

The DOL last month said it found children illegally working dangerous overnight shifts at JBS meat processing plants in Minnesota and Nebraska. The agency earlier this year alleged child labor violations at auto parts plants in Alabama after Reuters reported a Hyundai subsidiary near Montgomery hired migrant youths as young as 12.

Investigators uncovered child labor violations in more than 4,000 cases involving more than 13,000 minors between 2017 and 2021, according to the federal agency. 

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