Thirteen McDonald's franchise locations in the Pittsburgh area are accused of violating child labor laws by allegedly employing 101 14- and 15-year olds outside of permissible work hours, the Department of Labor announced Monday.
Santonastasso Enterprises LLC, which is owned and operated by John and Kathleen Santonastasso and based in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, a borough about 10 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, paid a penalty of $57,332 after investigators with the department’s Wage and Hour Division allegedly found the violations at the 13 McDonald’s locations they operate in and around Pittsburgh.
Investigators determined that the franchisee allegedly violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, which stipulates that teens cannot work more than three hours on a school day; after 7 p.m. on any day; later than 9 p.m. between June 1 and Labor Day, when they are allowed to work until 9 p.m.; more than 8 hours on a non-school day; or more than 18 hours a week during the school year, among other regulations.
Department officials also allegedly found an occupational violation at one of the four Pittsburgh locations where an employee under the age of 16 allegedly operated a deep fryer that was not equipped with a device to automatically lower and raise the baskets.
In a statement provided to NBC News, John and Kathleen Santonastasso said: “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 Facebook page for the franchisee states the family "has been working in the McDonald’s corporation for over 40 years."
In a statement, the McDonald's corporate office said franchisees "make local decisions for their businesses" but are expected to comply with state and federal law.
“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,” the statement said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Labor said officials do not reveal the reason that investigations are initiated but pointed to information on the department's website that states that many investigations are initiated by confidential complaints and that the division also monitors low-wage industries that typically have high rates of violations or employ vulnerable workers.
The spokesperson added that, in addition to paying the fine, Santonastasso Enterprises LLC had to agree to full future compliance with department regulations. The spokesperson added that the department does not disclose if they plan to investigate other McDonald’s locations across the country.
The violations follow more than 4,000 child labor violations the Department of Labor has identified affecting more than 13,000 minor workers from 2017 to 2021.
Last month, the department accused a food sanitation company, Packers Sanitation Services of allegedly employing at least 50 kids to work overnight cleaning shifts at five slaughterhouses in three states, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Packers Sanitation Services has since resolved the allegations with the Labor Department, according to a federal court filing filed Tuesday morning, which stated the company will review and enhance its existing policies and training materials and hire a third-party consultant to conduct “quarterly child labor compliance training” and monitor the company’s compliance for three years. The company will also provide a new child labor provision in its contracts with clients and will notify the Labor Department as to how many employees it terminated as a result of its compliance with child labor laws.
A spokesperson for the company said in a statement that PSSI has "zero tolerance" for such violations.