Wal-Mart Watch: Outrage builds over the sweetheart deal that will make it easier for Wal-Mart to keep breaking the law:
Wal-Mart allowed nearly 70 teenage employees in Connecticut to operate dangerous machinery over a four-year period, federal Labor Department officials said Monday. State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal called for a state investigation after federal authorities reported 16- and 17-year-old children operated chain saws, forklifts and paper balers at Connecticut stores. Federal labor law prohibits children under 18 from operating such machinery. The number of youths involved was disclosed Monday after a weekend announcement that Wal-Mart and the federal Department of Labor had reached an unusual, out of court settlement in January regarding 25 violations of child labor laws - 21 of which took place in Connecticut stores between 1998 and 2002. The Labor Department would not disclose where in Connecticut the violations occurred nor whether any children were hurt. The settlement requires federal officials to give the company a 15-day advancenotice of any further audits as well as a 10-day grace period to correct violations. Wal-Mart agreed to pay $135,540 to settle the charges, but denied any wrongdoing. It is unclear whether any violations have taken place since 2002. The arrangement drew sharp criticism as a "sweetheart deal." "In effect it gives the company an unusual, if not unique, amount of time to avoid or even cover up evidence in the future," Blumenthal said. "And it certainly diminishes the usefulness of any future federal investigation, which is why the state has an obligation to undertake a more proactive and aggressive role." The notification provision prompted Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., to call for an investigation by the federal Department of Labor's Inspector General to determine whether the arrangement represented a "sweetheart deal between the Bush Administration and one of the nation's most frequent violators of labor laws."
Meanwhile, as Nathan notes, the Bush Department of Labor has edited its press release to remove this line:
The department's Wage and Hour Division found that Wal-Mart allowed teenage workers to operate hazardous equipment resulting in one teenager being injured while operating a chain saw.
As Congressman George Miller observes:
There's labor organizations that watch out for these people. But, every time one of these labor organizations approaches a Wal- Mart, they fire the workers who are involved it. They make their life very difficult. We just saw, I believe it is in Canada, where they got a right to organize and Wal-Mart closed the whole store. So what chance do these people have? Now they have the inside track in the Department of Labor, the last independent party between Wal-Mart's employment practices and their employees, and that's now been taken away because the home office gets the first cut at your grievance. These are -- these people have no real protections in these jobs. What does that tell them about filing a grievance, that people in the home office are going to look for this, they're going to tell your supervisor, your store manager, and they're going to come looking for you.
Bush and Wal-Mart: Standing by the finish line in the race to the bottom.


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