Connecticut Says No To Kids Working At Family Pizzeria Officials with the Connecticut Department of Labor told the owners of a family-run pizzeria they could not let their children, who are less than 16 years old, work in the restaurant. One of the owners, Mike Nuzzo, has filed a lawsuit against the department, saying he has the right to teach the family business to his kids.
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Conn. Says No To Kids Working At Family Pizzeria

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Conn. Says No To Kids Working At Family Pizzeria

Conn. Says No To Kids Working At Family Pizzeria

Conn. Says No To Kids Working At Family Pizzeria

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/127930824/127978184" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Officials from the Connecticut Department of Labor said the Nuzzo family could not let their children under the age of 16 work in the family restaurant, Grand Apizza. Diane Orson for NPR hide caption

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Diane Orson for NPR

Officials from the Connecticut Department of Labor said the Nuzzo family could not let their children under the age of 16 work in the family restaurant, Grand Apizza.

Diane Orson for NPR

The Nuzzo family has been working in the pizza business in Connecticut since the 1950s. They say the pizza trade is part of their children's heritage. But state officials say the Nuzzos are violating child labor laws by allowing kids to work in the pizzeria.

So the family has filed a federal lawsuit against the Connecticut Department of Labor to keep their tradition alive.

Real World University

On a Friday night at Grand Apizza in the shoreline town of Clinton, Conn., the place is packed.

Owner Mike Nuzzo says he grew up working in the pizza trade with his dad.

"He taught me more than any college or university in this country could teach me," Nuzzo says. "He taught me about family, respect, integrity and hard work. And that's what I'm trying to teach my children."

Not long ago, Nuzzo began letting his 13-year-old son help out in the kitchen on Friday nights.

"He can make a pizza, dress a pizza," Nuzzo says of his son. "He brings the pizza to the counter, says thank you to people ... knows how to count money."

The two younger children worked with their mom seating customers and busing tables. Their grandfather often joined them.

But that came to an abrupt end in May, after Connecticut's Department of Labor was tipped off that kids under age16 were working at the pizzeria. Officials told the family it had to stop.

Nuzzo says he was stunned.

"Friday nights we have three generations of family working together, and that's a memory," he says. "I got a little choked up. It's a tradition. It's a memory for my son to work with his grandfather and myself."

So he filed a federal lawsuit against Connecticut's Department of Labor saying he has the right to teach the pizza trade to his children.

A spokesperson for the department declined to comment because of the pending litigation.

Attorney David Rosen, who teaches at Yale Law School, says the two sides should sit down and see if a solution can be worked out.

"If it isn't, the family and their lawyers have a hard row to hoe because after all, child labor laws serve a purpose," Rosen says.

Mike and Migdalia Nuzzo own and operate Grand Apizza in Clinton, Conn. The Nuzzo family has been in the pizza business in Connecticut since the 1950s. Diane Orson for NPR hide caption

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Diane Orson for NPR

Mike and Migdalia Nuzzo own and operate Grand Apizza in Clinton, Conn. The Nuzzo family has been in the pizza business in Connecticut since the 1950s.

Diane Orson for NPR

Regulating 'The American Dream'

In fact, federal laws allow certain exemptions for children under age 14. But Connecticut has stricter child labor regulations. And when federal and state laws differ, the more protective law is followed.

In Connecticut, that means 14-year-olds can be golf caddies or babysitters. They can deliver newspapers and work on farms. But they must be 16 years old to be employed at most jobs. And there are no family-business exemptions.

Rosen says there will always be situations where laws may seem unreasonable. The issue, he says, is common sense enforcement.

"If you put yourself on the other side and say: 'Do we want to have the laws, or we want to have a society without laws, or do we want to have a new law for every different situation' -- that doesn't work either," he says.

Back at the pizzeria, longtime customer Anthony Riccio says families honor their heritage when they pass a trade on to the next generation, and labor laws shouldn't challenge that.

"Go to any restaurants, go to any industries -- children are always working and learning from their parents," Riccio says. That's the American dream, he adds.