Jewel Romero, a 17-year-old cashier, said her employer called her to work in the middle of the school day, and the girl missed school that day, according to the complaint obtained by The Washington Post.
California labor laws limit minors under the age of 18 to only four hours of work per day during the school day and nothing later than 10 p.m.
The Post interviewed Romero and her mother to corroborate the allegations in the complaint.
When her principal first started keeping her past 10 p.m. on school nights, Romero said, she would get up late, miss the bus, and then fall behind.
“It affected me a lot,” Romero said. “I’m starting to fall behind. I won’t be able to get enough sleep. I’m going to get frustrated. I don’t like falling behind in school. I wonder if I’ll graduate because of my grades.”
The fast-food giant promptly closed the Oakland restaurant owned by one of its subsidiaries on Thursday in response to the workers’ allegations and launched a “swift investigation,” a spokesperson for Popeyes said, after The Post reached out for comment.
“We will not tolerate any violation of labor laws, and if any of these allegations prove true, we will take action against this franchisee,” a Popeyes spokesperson said.
A request for comment was not returned from the franchisee, 14th Street Chicken Corporation.
The allegations provide an inside look at the toll of the child labor problem in the United States. Child labor violations have nearly quadrupled since 2015, according to Department of Labor data, in part due to a persistent shortage of workers and the arrival in the United States of migrant children without parents. Young teens were sacrificing their education, sleep, and social connections to work for some of the nation’s most prestigious and hard-pressed employers for workers.
A cleaning company illegally hired a 13-year-old. Her family is paying the price.
Many of these abuses have occurred in the fast-food and restaurant industries, which have struggled to win back workers who left the industry during the pandemic, often in higher-paying jobs. Earlier this month, three McDonald’s franchises were cited for employing more than 300 children who worked longer hours than the law allowed, among other violations. The Department of Labor fined a Louisville franchise nearly $40,000 for working two 10-year-olds, without pay.
Employees at Popeyes in Auckland told The Post they plan to protest outside the store on Thursday against child labor and other abuses alleged in complaints filed this week. They stage with SEIU’s Fight movement for $15.
Another 17-year-old Popeyes employee alleged that she was also slated to work longer and more hours at Popeyes than legally permitted, according to her statement, which is also in the complaint obtained by The Post. The Post does not name her to protect her privacy because she is a minor.
“At one point, I fell so far behind in my classes, it was difficult to recover because after school, all I could do was work, eat, and sleep,” she wrote in her statement in the complaint. “I worked hard to catch up, and I felt like I didn’t have time to catch up with my friends because I had to take breaks and lunch to get help from my teachers and do schoolwork, because after school I don’t have time for homework when I work.”
She said she was planning to skip her high school senior trip to Disneyland this year, because she feared losing her job if she asked for time off work to go.
The other 17-year-old wrote in her statement: “I am sad that I will miss Grad’s night.” “I decided not to go because debauchery is not for me, and I am afraid that I will ask for time off from work and that I will be retaliated against and then lose my income.”
The Biden administration has announced a crackdown on employers who violate child labor laws, even as a few Republican-majority states move to relax regulations that prevent young people from working long and late hours, often in dangerous conditions.
This month, the Iowa Legislature passed a bill allowing minors to work longer hours and take jobs in roofing, construction, and light assembly with permission.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) signed a law in March that eliminates the state’s requirement for age verification for children under 16 before they can get a job.
The Post reported earlier this month that the Florida-based pressure group and think tank, the Government Accountability Foundation, is working on drafting state laws that successfully rolled back child workplace protections this year.
Romero, 17, who recently graduated from high school, started working at Popeyes earlier this year to help her parents, who live paycheck to paycheck, paying rent and utility bills, she told The Post.
Upon her appointment, she said, Popeyes did not require that she have a work permit as required by California law for all minor jobs, according to the complaint.
Sometimes, when her shift ended at 10 p.m., Romero said her manager told her to “stay until 11,” according to the complaint.
“I’m never really going to get enough sleep to be able to wake up [in time for school]Romero said. “It’s not good for minors to go through this. It’s draining.”
Romero said she hopes to use her savings from Popeyes to enroll in college and study criminal justice.
While child labor violations have risen in the world of fast food, the meatpacking industry has taken the spotlight with reports of children as young as 13 working night shifts in slaughterhouses. Earlier this year, the Labor Department fined a sanitation company $1.5 million for hiring more than 100 youths to clean saw blades and other equipment at 13 meatpacking facilities.
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