Labor Department finds hundreds of children illegally employed at McDonald’s restaurants

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A file photo shows a McDonald’s sign at sunrise in Arundel Mills, Md. A May 2 report released by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division said investigators found that three franchises of the fast-food giant that own more than 60 locations in Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland and Ohio were in violation of federal child labor laws. OSV News photo/Gary Cameron, Reuters

The family-friendly reputation of fast-food giant McDonald’s was recently spoiled when three franchises that own more than 60 Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland and Ohio locations were found by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division investigators to be in violation of federal labor laws.

The restaurants illegally employed 305 children, some as young as 10, according to the Labor Department.

The Labor Department said May 2 the adolescents worked “more than the legally permitted hours” and performed “tasks prohibited by law for young workers.” The Labor Department’s news release stated the unpaid 10-year-olds “sometimes worked as late as 2 a.m … they prepared and distributed food orders, cleaned the store, worked at the drive-thru window and operated a register. The division also learned that one of the two children was allowed to operate a deep fryer, a prohibited task for workers under 16 years old.”

“It’s a tragedy that we are seeing a return of child labor in this country,” Clayton Sinyai, executive director of the Catholic Labor Network, told OSV News. “Ten-year-old children belong in school, not operating the deep fryer in a restaurant.”

Fines totaled $212,544 in civil penalties against the employers. The McDonald’s locations are operated by Bauer Food and Bell Restaurant Group, both based in Louisville, Kentucky, and Archways Richwood based in Walton, Kentucky.

The Labor Department reports that more broadly, it “found 688 minors employed illegally in hazardous occupations in fiscal year 2022, the highest annual count since fiscal year 2011.”

Wage and Hour Division district director Karen Garnett-Civils in Louisville said in a statement, “We are seeing an increase in federal child labor violations, including allowing minors to operate equipment or handle types of work that endangers them or employs them for more hours or later in the day than federal law allows.”

Garnett-Civils added, “An employer who hires young workers must know the rules. An employer, parent or young worker with questions can contact us for help understanding their obligations and rights under the law.”

Father Christopher Mahar, an official in the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told OSV News, “It is essential that families receive the integral support that they need, from states and social services, so that children are not even considered as a solution for financial difficulties.”

“Now is the time to eliminate all forms of child labor,” added Father Mahar.

“As Pope Francis has indicated, children have a right to play and to dream. Exposing them to the potential harms of the workplace cuts short that reality,” he said. “The way we protect the dignity of children today determines what the world of tomorrow will look like.”

Kevin Cassidy, director of the U.S. office of the International Labor Organization, told OSV News that “when children under the age of 18 work with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools, or in difficult conditions such as work for long hours or during the night, this is considered hazardous work.”

Hazardous work for children is prohibited under the ILO’s “Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182),” which was ratified by the United States in 1999.

The ILO is a Geneva, Switzerland-based specialized agency of the United Nations, and has confronted the issue of child labor since its 1919 founding. It sets international labor standards, and advises the U.S. government concerning policy. The Vatican delegates a permanent observer to the U.N. and its agencies, and Pope Francis has offered messages to ILO gatherings.

“Child labor deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and is harmful to their physical and mental development,” Cassidy explained. “Ending child labor in all its forms should be the goal of all countries.”

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