WASHINGTON (FNS) -- Supermarkets may employ fewer youths under the age of 18 if the Labor Department doesn't ease up on its rules governing minors in the workplace, several retailers told agency officials at a National Grocers Association conference here.
"Why should we hire someone under 18?" Joseph McAndrew of Columbian Foods, Boardman, Ohio, asked of Maria Echaveste, the department's wage-and-hour administrator. "We have no reason whatsoever to hire a young person. There's not a job we have that can't be done by a senior citizen."
McAndrew and other grocers addressed department regulations covering minors' working hours and paper balers at a recent NGA conference.
Several supermarket operators have been hit with federal fines for violations of agency regulations, such as allowing workers under 18 to throw cardboard into idle and secured paper balers or allowing them to work past 7 p.m. on a week night.
The agency in May asked several industries, including the supermarket industry, to submit proposals for changing regulations governing hazardous occupations and child labor.The deadline for filing comments is Aug. 11.
Echaveste said she is open to weighing both issues with an eye to possible "common sense" changes.
Regarding the 7 p.m. school-night curfew, Echaveste said she could envision the limit being eliminated for Friday night, since it precedes a weekend.
The supermarket industry also has been lobbying the agency to rethink its decades-old paper-baler regulations in light of technological changes in the machines. Industry officials argue that, when idle, paper balers are harmless.
"Why not allow a 17-year-old to throw a piece of paper into a baler?" asked Nick Andrew of Streator Foods, Streator, Ill. Andrew said he was once fined $6,000 for paper-baler violations, an amount that was reduced to $3,200. "Now I won't hire anyone under 18," Andrew said.
Echaveste urged grocers to offer ideas as to how to draw the regulations to protect minors, while protecting the interests of supermarkets. She added that the agency has received reports over the years of minors being injured or killed by paper balers. Without citing specific cases, she said the reports of these incidents are significant enough to show that regulations governing child labor are needed.