IONIA COUNTY, Mich. (WLNS) — The owner of an Ionia County meat processor was ordered to pay a little more than $1,100 for hiring a minor for a dangerous job.
Several years ago, a teenager lost his hand while working at a US Guys Processing.
That fine is not sitting well with Attorney General Dana Nessel, who now wants to strengthen state labor laws.
The attorney for owner Darin Wilbur asked the judge for leniency, saying Wilbur had suffered both mentally and financially from the ordeal.
“My client has helped mentor many, many troubled kids. Many kids have served as chefs under him, have worked in his business. [This is the] first accident,” said Howard Van Den Heuvel.
Wilbur’s attorney spoke before an Ionia County judge who ordered Wilbur to pay several fines.
In 2019, state officials became aware of a 17-year-old losing his hand.
Further investigation found the teen was illegally employed for a dangerous job. Wilbur also did not check if the teen had a work permit.
In June, he pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge.
Ionia County District Judge Raymond Voet says there was no compelling reason for jail or probation, adding that it’s important to consider the local viewpoint and that the employee was almost an adult.
“Should a young person even be around this kind of machine? Again, I come back to the local community recognizing and, I think, supporting the idea that young people should not be afraid of hard work and not have any sort of fear of having a part-time job.”
In a June statement, Nessel said this case highlighted the need for lawmakers to strengthen state labor protections and up the consequences for breaking them.
“Our labor laws were written to protect children from dangerous workplaces. However, they lack the teeth needed to properly hold bad employers accountable for violations,” Nessel said.
State Democratic Rep. Joey Andrews sits on the House Labor Committee and agrees that current fines lack the sting, especially for larger businesses.
“When there’s no teeth and no actual threat, then you start to see laws bent and broken and workers taken advantage of,” Andrews said.
He says he understands young adults wanting to find work, maybe help with a family business, but doesn’t support the idea that teenagers should be exposed to dangerous jobs.
“Kids should be in school getting an education and preparing for life. They shouldn’t be losing their hands in meat packing accidents,” Andrews said.
Other members of the State House and Senate Labor Committee, including Republicans, as well as several different business organizations, including the Michigan Meat Association, were contacted but have not responded.