Meers Restaurant Accused of Violating Child Labor Laws
The U.S. Labor Department filed a complaint in a U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City this past week, alleging that the 114-year-old eatery owes over $180,000 in back pay for the past three years. The complaint accuses Meers of failing to pay workers overtime, paying less than the federal minimum wage, not paying underage workers, and paying workers "off the books".
Owner Joe Maranto, who has owned Meers for over 30 years, and his wife Margaret, who is named as co-defendant in the case and Meer's General Manager, have denied the claims, saying that they have always paid their staff the appropriate wage, and any underage children were the children of the staff who were allowed to bring them to work if they were called in on short notice,
They want us to pay the babies for being there and we're not allowed to do that. I had no idea you are not allowed to do that. The little girl goes up to help mamma clean the table and we can't pay her.
However, the claim alleges that underage workers worked over 18 hours a week and more than 8 hours on non-school days. The claim also says that one underage worker also regularly worked with hazardous equipment like the meat slicer and dough mixer.
The Marantos maintain their innocence and say that such allegations could force the restaurant into bankruptcy,
When we go bankrupt, there's going to be about 20 families including my own who will be hurt by this. If I go bankrupt, I'm going to fix it as much as I can so the government doesn't get a damn thing.
According to the complaint, the U.S. Labor Department calls the violations "willful",
Defendants' actions demonstrate an intentional effort to conceal the violations by manipulating time sheets and payroll records to account for a maximum of 40 hours a week with any additional hours paid in straight time in cash to employees at the end of each pay period.
Moreover, defendants' repeated false statements to investigators reflect their knowledge of the law and their intent to develop a scheme to avoid compliance.