Family-owned business disputes child labor laws

Family-owned business disputes child labor laws

The owners of a family-owned business in Sauk City are receiving backlash for allowing their children to help inside their bakery. The state is now auditing the business for potentially breaking child labor laws.

Curtis and Vickie Eberle, who own The Mixing Bowl Bakery, dreamed of opening their own business. A large part of that dream involved having their nine children there to help at the bakery.

“The customers love them. They love talking to them and interacting with them,” Vickie Eberle said.

The couple’s nine children range in age from 11 to 6 weeks old. All of the school-age children are homeschooled with the exception of one of their sons that is enrolled at a local school. A number of the kids help do everything from making pies to serving customers in the bakery.

“It’s like their chores. It would be like if we were at home, they would be doing dishes. They would be cleaning. They would be helping serve their siblings meals,” Curtis Eberle said.

The children do not get paid for their work, but they have received tips from customers on occasion.

The Department of Workforce Development sent a letter to the business on April 4, informing the couple they would be audited, after the department received “several” complaints regarding minors working in the bakery. The letter warned if they continue to allow their children to work, they could be in violation of state child labor laws. The couple immediately stopped allowing the children to work.

“It’s what America was founded on and what it was built on — the mom and pop places that don’t exist hardly anymore. The laws don’t help us at all when you can’t have your children helping in any way, shape or form,” Curtis said.

Under state law, most minors under the age of 14 cannot be employed, with some exceptions. Children ages 12 and 13 must have a permit to work in a parent-owned business. Minors under 16 are also subject to working restricted hours. The same rules do not apply to children working on farms

“I just want it equal for everyone, for small family businesses. There shouldn’t be any discrimination at all within it,” Curtis Eberle said.

Curtis and his children took their concerns to the Capitol Monday, where they handed out letters of support from the community to show the value of children in business. The Eberles hope that they can work with lawmakers to change child labor laws to favor small family businesses.

“It’s not right. It just makes you want to stand up and fight more and say ‘This is what America was founded on and we need to get back to our roots,'” he said.

The Eberles say they were following federal child labor laws that allow youth of any age to work in the baking industry, if their parents own the business. Some restrictions on handling certain equipment do apply.