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18 firms in Utah fined for child labor violations

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More than a dozen Utah businesses were fined last year for hiring children too young, working teens too much and other federal child labor law violations.

"They work too long and too often," said Ruth Bauman, spokeswoman for the Utah regional office of the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division.Eighteen Utah businesses paid $73,100 in fines and were among the nation's 1,141 businesses cited in 1997, the division's records show.

Agency investigators found 12 children younger than 14 working in Utah restaurants, bowling alleys, convenience stores and retail shops. Of those, seven were working more hours than the law allows for 14- and 15-year-olds.

Workers must be at least 14 years old to have most jobs, Bauman said.

The largest fine was a $24,600 against Central Park Burgers in Layton, where investigators found 13 employees ages 14 and 15 were working too many hours, federal records show.

Half the businesses cited were fast-food restaurants, Bauman said.

She said Utah's low unemployment rate is part of the reason employers find it difficult to find people who will work for minimum wage.

But management is also to blame.

"They (owners) rely on their managers to keep the peace, and they don't do it," Bauman said.

From Labor Day to June 1, children 14 or 15 years old may work only between the hours of 7 a.m and 7 p.m. They may not work more than three hours on a school day or more than eight on a non-school day. They may not accumulate more than 18 hours of work a week.

From June 1 to Labor Day, which is summer vacation for most teenagers, 14- and 15-year-olds can work between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. and accumulate no more than 40 hours a week.

To catch violators, investigators have to work some odd hours of their own.

"We're trying to be as sneaky as they are," Bauman said. "(Employers) think we're federal workers and we don't work nights and weekends, but we do."

Child labor law violations are an issue nationally.

Congress is considering legislation that would ban the import of any goods produced with forced or indentured child labor and close loopholes that allow U.S. companies to use child labor.