On the Vine Marketplace, a specialty grocery store with locations in Scarborough and Exeter, New Hampshire, has paid a $27,274 fine to the U.S. Department of Labor for violation of federal child labor laws.

An investigation found that minors at the Scarborough location cleaned power-driven meat mixers and grinders, a prohibited act for minors, the U.S. Department of Labor said in a news release Tuesday.

But Abel Schultze, part-owner of the store and a third-generation butcher, denied that the teens touched the meat processing machines and said that the violation was centered around the use of a Cryovac machine, which is a vacuum sealer used to suck air out of meat packages.

“A microwave is more dangerous than a Cryovac machine, and we didn’t understand that they couldn’t clean or use that either,” Schultze said during a phone interview. “But we never had them even getting close to a grinder or any type of actual machinery that processes meat.”

According to the Department of Labor, three minors cleaned prohibited equipment in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Schultze said he had considered getting a lawyer, but after being shown the rule by the investigator, he understood that violations had occurred.

The investigation also identified 10 minors at the Scarborough store and one minor at the Exeter store working in violation of federal hour restrictions. Schultze said that during the COVID pandemic, when his employed minors weren’t in school, they had often punched out 10 to 20 minutes after 7 p.m.

Federal law limits minors under 16 from working past 7 p.m. between Labor Day and May 31.

“I was pulling, like 14-hour days during that time period, we were barely keeping open,” Schultze said. “I do really think I’m following the rules and taking care of my employees.”

Schultze said one of the minors was his 15-year-old daughter, who hadn’t punched out until 8 o’clock because Schultze had stayed working there.

The Department of Labor began its investigation after it received a report of a minor working in violation of federal hours restrictions at the Exeter location. Because the minor worked at both locations, the Department of Labor investigated the Scarborough location as well, where they determined the employer was violating federal child labor laws by allowing minors to clean prohibited equipment.

“The summer hiring season is here, and employers should review their youth employment practices to ensure they comply with federal child labor laws. Employment provides young workers with valuable experience, but these opportunities must never come at the expense of a minor’s safety or education,” said Eduardo Mota, the Wage and Hour acting district director in Manchester, New Hampshire.


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