Food Lion Negotiating with Labor Department

Article excerpt

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ Food Lion is negotiating with federal Labor Department officials about allegations the North Carolina grocery store chain violated overtime and child-labor laws, a company executive said Tuesday.

"I'm elated we are able to talk with them," said Food Lion vice president Vince Watkins, who said the serious discussions with the agency's Wage and Hour Division in Washington, D.C., began in early December.

"I think everyone benefits from a resolution rather than being forced into litigation," he said in a phone interview from Food Lion's headquarters in Salisbury. "We need to have a one-on-one dialogue with. . .the ones who are calling the shots."

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the talks were "to head off massive federal charges for violating child-labor and overtime-pay laws."

Watkins disagreed.

"The numbers we've been given by the Department of Labor don't equate to massive charges," he said.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has found fewer than 300 Food Lion employees who claim they were forced to work "off the clock," Watkins said.

The Wage and Hour Division began investigating Food Lion's employment practices after complaints from the union, which charged that the company saved $65 million a year from unpaid overtime.

Labor Department officials told a congressional subcommittee in September that they had found substantial overtime and child-labor violations at some of Food Lion's stores.

Food Lion has stores in Oklahoma.

"There's been a lot of misunderstanding about our scheduling system, and most of the information the Labor Department has gotten came from the union," Watkins said. "We now have the opportunity to inform them how our system works and to make it evident this is not the Draconian system the union purports it to be, but a management tool used by most retailers."

Food Lion also faces possible charges involving some 1,400 child-labor violations.

"We've been told verbally (by labor investigators) that more than 90 percent of those involve 16- and 17-year-old employees putting cardboard into nonworking balers, many of them before the department changed or clarified its regulations," Watkins said. …