Hard data: Six firms violated child labor laws

  • Article by: JANE FRIEDMANN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 14, 2012 - 7:04 PM

A boy's hockey team installed pipe for an arena. Teenagers served alcohol to guests at a supper club. A 13-year-old was employed on a shooting range.

In all, six businesses were cited for violating state child labor laws in cases that closed in the second half of 2011 and the first half of 2012, according to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

The department's labor standards unit has four investigators who look into reported violations of laws governing minor workers, minimum wage and overtime, among other rules. The unit's hotline received more than 25,000 calls in 2011.

State law prohibits minors under 18 from working in hazardous jobs or those considered "detrimental to their well-being."

In most cases high school students may not work before 5 a.m. on a school day, or past 11 p.m. before a school day.

Minors under 16 can't work before 7 a.m., after 9 p.m., for more than eight hours in a day, 40 hours in a week or during school hours.

Those under 14 can work only certain jobs, such as babysitting, on a farm or in a family business.

Additional restrictions apply to work in businesses where alcohol is present.

The information below is taken from state case files. The businesses are ranked by fine.

1 G.S.T. Inc., doing business as Arena Systems, St. Paul, $25,250 fine

Arena systems employed 21 children ages 12-17, including members of the Pirate boys' hockey team, to do pipefitting work and other tasks for a $13 million state-funded hockey arena built nearly three years ago in Crookston, the state said.

In interviews, the children described cutting and laying plastic pipe under what would become the rink and using heat guns to connect pipe. The boys logged 443 hours of work and spent about 40 percent of that time helping to install what the Crookston Times reported was 30 miles of pipe.

Arena systems denied that it had employed minors in hazardous tasks, but agreed to pay the fine.

Other violations cited were employment of minors under the age of 14, without proof of age, and under the age of 16 for more than eight hours in a day.

The state also found Arena Systems in violation of prevailing wage laws, in part because $5 of each minor's $15 hourly wage was donated to the Crookston Youth Hockey Association.

2 Castle Rock Supper Club, Hawley, $4,750 fine

The state found that the business, which serves alcohol, had employed two 16- and two 17-year-old girls as servers. Child labor laws consider the distribution and sale of alcohol by a minor under 18 a hazardous occupation. The supper club was also fined for employing minors without proof of age.

Castle Rock told the state that it "is a struggling small business in a small town," and "is not a drinking man's bar . . . but more of a family orientated restaurant."

3 Alexandria Shooting Park, Alexandria, $3,750 fine

The business employed 13 minors without having proof of age on file.

It also employed a 13-year-old boy to act as a scorer for the Minnesota Trap Shooting Association Championships, an illegal act despite the business having received approval from the boy's father.

The father had given Alexandria Shooting Park permission to employ the child "knowing his maturity and the great safety that is consistently applied at" the business, the father said in a letter to the state.

In addition to keeping score, the duties of a scorer include picking up empty shells, emptying garbage bins and cleaning bathrooms.

4 Justin's Drywall Inc., St. Cloud, $1,750 fine

Justin's failed to respond to department letters and a subpoena requesting records. The state had received a report of a minor under age 18 working in a construction setting.

The state then fined Justin's for employing a minor in a hazardous profession without proof of age and for failing to cooperate with the state.

The state forgave a $12,000 fine for failing to supply and keep records.

5 Surplus Warehouse of Willmar Inc., Willmar, $1,000 fine

The state found that the business had hired a 13-year-old girl. It also found that the child worked more than 10 hours one day, two hours more than allowed to minors under the age of 16. The owner disputed that, saying the child failed to clock in and out for lunch.

6 Pizza Pub of North Branch LLC, North Branch, $500 fine

The restaurant was fined for having a 15-year-old work past 9 p.m. one evening.

The state also fined Pizza Pub $1,000 for allowing a 17-year-old to work past 11 p.m. According to the owner, the worker had been told to clock out at 10:30 p.m. The business won't have to pay the $1,000 fine as long as it remains in compliance with child labor laws.

Hard Data digs into public records and puts a spotlight on rule breakers in Minnesota. Contact me at jfriedmann@startribune.com.

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