Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Children Working Illegally 19 Employers Here Were Assessed Fines

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Children Working Illegally 19 Employers Here Were Assessed Fines

Article excerpt

Fourteen-year-old Santa's helpers working too late on school nights. A 15-year-old running a power mower at a golf course. Thirteen-year-olds washing car windows.

These are some of the child labor violations U.S. Labor Department officials found in a recent sweep in the St. Louis area. The violations included:

Hiring workers under 14.

Scheduling those under 16 to work past their job curfews - limits on how many hours are worked and when.

Assigning youths to use equipment considered too hazardous. For example, an employee must be 16 to work as a cook, 18 to operate a forklift.

This is the fourth year that the Labor Department has conducted such sweeps. Congress urged the crackdown amid reports that found 70 percent of on-the-job deaths of young workers involved violations of federal child labor laws.

Ken Kelly, eastern Missouri district director of the Wage and Hour division, said the sweeps helped.

"When other store owners and restaurants see in the paper that such and such restaurant had 15 minors working past midnight, and it was fined $6,000, that has an effect." he said.

For two weeks in May, eight investigators targeted businesses such as golf courses, car washes and restaurants, all of which rely on young workers. They found violations in nearly half - 33 of 75 checked.

Nineteen employers were fined, mainly for working more than one employee beyond curfews, or for assigning hazardous work, or hiring underage workers.

Most pleaded ignorance, paid the fine and promised to do better, Kelly said.

Investigators found 10 employees who were age 13 at the West County Car Wash, 13894 Manchester Road. Federal law prohibits hiring workers under 14.

Mickey Sansone, the owner, appealed his fine and brought in parent permission letters and evidence that some of the youths worked only a few hours or days. As a result, an $7,700 fine was reduced to $4,500.

Sansone said he had learned his lesson. When he hires youths to scramble around inside a car, a bottle of window cleaner in hand, he will ask for a birth certificate first. No certificate - no job.

Santa Plus, which supplies Santa Clauses and Easter Bunnies to malls and stores, has also changed its ways. The company is writing a policy manual for location managers, who do the hiring and scheduling, an employee said.

Santa Plus, based in St. Peters, got into trouble when a couple of location managers were short a Santa's helper and used their own children, who were too young to work the late hours, the employee said.

Federal law requires that during the school year, 14- and 15-year-olds can't work after 7 p.m. or for more than three hours a day on weeknights, or more than 18 hours a week. During the summer, the curfew is extended to 9 p.m.

Kelly is glad to see a decline in young people working with hazardous equipment. "We're after the meat slicers that can cut off a finger, the paper bailers and dough mixers than can mangle a kid," he said. …

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