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A sawmill in northern Wisconsin will pay out $191,000 and stop hiring minors under 16 years of age as part of a federal lawsuit that labor regulators filed after a teenager was killed on the job. Several other children were also injured in a string of accidents.
The Associated Press reported that Michael Schuls died in July after he was pinned in a wood-stacking machine at Florence Hardwoods in Florence, Wisconsin. He was apparently trying to resolve a jam in a planing mill when the conveyer belt he was standing on moved and pinned him.
Following the incident, an investigation was launched by the U.S. Department of Labor. They discovered that three minors between 15 and 16 years old were injured while working at the sawmill between November 2021 and March 2023.
“This tragic case illustrates just how vital and urgent it is that the Department of Labor uses every tool at our disposal to combat child labor,” Julie Su, Acting Secretary of Labor, said.
“Any death of a child is too many. That’s why our Wage and Hour Division and Solicitor’s Office took immediate steps to prevent the sale of ‘hot goods’ and to hold the company accountable for allowing children to perform hazardous and, in this case, deadly jobs. Illegal child labor is a stain on this country and will not be tolerated by this administration or this department.”
The sawmill also employed nine minors between 14 and 17 years of age to illegally run machines and saws, per the investigation. It was also found that seven minors had worked outside legally permitted hours.
The majority of the work that takes place in sawmills is strictly prohibited for minors, due to the dangers presented. But minors 16 years of age and older are allowed to work in Wisconsin planing mills, which is where lumber goes for the final processing step.
The labor department subsequently filed a civil lawsuit against Florence Hardwoods on Tuesday, according to AP. However, the agency and the attorneys for the sawmill had already reached a consent decree in late August, which was approved by U.S. District Judge William Griesbach on Wednesday.
The agreement says that the sawmill must pay the labor department $191,000, and in exchange, the department will lift its hot goods restrictions on the facility, which bars the sawmill from selling anything that is made using illegal child labor, per the report.
The sawmill is also not allowed to employ anyone under 16 years old, and they are required to notify the labor department if they hire someone between 16 and 18 years of age. If the company does decide to hire a minor, they must be treated as apprentices or student learners.
Florence Hardwoods will also have to place stickers on all potentially dangerous equipment and post signs that are visible from 10 feet away, warning those under the age of 18 that they are not allowed near the equipment.
The sawmill released a statement through its attorney, Jodi Arndt Labs, claiming that they did not know they were in violation of any labor laws, but that they would accept the penalties.
“As a small company, employees are like family, and the death of Michael Schuls was devastating,” the statement said.
“We are only able to move forward thanks to the love and support of our workforce and the community. Michael will forever be in our hearts and his family in our prayers.”
Florence Hardwoods fined $190K for teen's deathwww.youtube.com
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