Police in Enterprise, Alabama was called in to investigate the disappearance of a 14-year-old migrant girl earlier this year.
The girl was located and returned to her family without incident, but police stumbled upon something nefarious during their investigation.
The officers reportedly discovered a metal stamping plant has been employing potentially dozens of underage workers.
The plant is operated by a company called SMART, which is listed by Hyundai of Alabama as a supplier subsidiary it has an ownership stake in. They also supply vehicle parts for an assembly plant in Montgomery, Alabama.
During the investigation officers were told that the missing girl and other children had been working at the plant.
After the information was made public, the media outlet Reuters conducted their own investigation.
They reported that children as young as 12 were working at the plant on normal shift schedules.
The father of the missing teenager confirmed that she and her two brothers, 12 and 15 were not attending school and had been working fulltime at the plant.
A former SMART employee told the news outlet that the plant relied on migrant workers to keep up with high demand and recalled working with one child who looked to be no older than 11 or 12.
After Reuters published their story, SMART issued a statement saying it “denies any allegation that it knowingly employed anyone who is ineligible for employment.”
Hyundai issued a separate statement saying it “does not tolerate illegal employment practices.”
In Alabama, there are restrictions of how many hours a minor may work per day and per week.
Minors under sixteen are allowed to work a maximum of 8 hours a day when school is not in session. Alabama has no such restrictions for minors aged 16 or 17 for daytime hours. Work is prohibited from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. on school nights.
However, employers are allowed to hire minors at aged 14, but they must obtain a Child Labor Certificate from the Alabama Department of Labor. One certificate allows a business to employ as many minors as they need for an entire year.
The law does stipulate that during school terms, 14 and 15-year-old minors can only work up to 3 hours per day and are limited to 18 hours per week.
Enterprise police did their duty and reported their findings to the state attorney general’s office. So far, the agency has declined to comment on whether it has opened an investigation into the matter.
If the police reported it and there are witnesses who confirmed what was going on, someone needs to be held accountable. A simple search should confirm whether the company ever applied for a Child Labor Certificate. And there should be bank records which will verify if the children were paid or not. Let’s hope someone in charge has thought of checking on those things.
With allegations of illegal employment practices, you would assume that our governor would be outraged and mortified those children were being exploited for profit.
After all, she has made it clear that here in Alabama we are serious about protecting the lives of our children. Well, the ones who haven’t been born yet, anyway.
No, instead of vowing to get to the bottom of the situation or even mentioning it when it was reported, she apparently has something else on her mind.
After the Alabama Department of Health tweeted about masking up to protect our communities, Gov. Kay Ivey was quick to respond to such an outrageous suggestion.
The ADPH’s new campaign is an effort to convince people that masking when the COVID numbers increase makes sense and that some immune compromised individuals would be safer if they masked up. Therefore, making it a ‘normal’ safety precaution.
It made sense to some of us, but I guess the governor is having none of it.
Ivey’s communication director issued a statement saying the governor does not support the idea of “normalizing masking”. She also made it clear that there are no plans for a new mask mandate in response to the increase in COVID cases.
We are so glad they cleared that up for us, now what about the allegations made against the company concerning illegal employment of children and violations of child labor laws? Is anyone in her office looking into that?
Child labor laws exist to prevent the exploitation of minors for labor and to ensure their work is safe and does not jeopardize their health or educational opportunities.
The Department of Labor says child labor is usually found where cheap labor is wanted or where employers are careless.
Gov. Ivey needs to stop her political pandering and make sure these claims are investigated because protection for Alabama’s children should continue long after their first breath.
Anita McGill is a former publisher of The Sentinel. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.