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Wal-Mart Settlement Under Federal Scrutiny


Washington, D.C., Federal investigators will review a $135,540 settlement the government reached with Wal-Mart Stores over accusations that the company violated child labor laws.

Rep. George Miller sought the investigation. The California Democrat has criticized the settlement because it provided that Wal-Mart would receive 15 days notice in most cases before the Labor Department investigated employee complaints of wage and hour violations. Miller, the top Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee, said the two-week window could give Wal-Mart the opportunity to sweep violations under the rug. Miller also complained that the settlement was too small—amounting to 15 seconds worth of Wal-Mart sales in 2004.

“We plan to review the circumstances surrounding this agreement,” Labor Department Inspector General Gordon S. Heddell wrote in a letter to Miller. The letter did not offer details on the scope or timing of the review.

Wal-Mart spokesman Gus Whitcomb said the company welcomed the review.

The alleged violations, at 25 stores in Arkansas, Connecticut and New Hampshire between 1998 and 2002, had to do with teenage workers who used hazardous equipment such as chain saws, paper balers or forklifts. Child labor laws prohibit anyone under 18 from operating hazardous equipment. Wal-Mart denied the allegations but agreed to pay the penalty.

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