Sixteen-year-olds on the job for more than nine hours straight, and sometimes over 48 hours in a week. Minors operating forklifts and motor vehicles or handling alcoholic beverages. Teenagers working late without adult supervision.
Those are some of the charges that have resulted in the state’s levying child-labor law fines against more than 100 companies, including national chains such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway.
In all, employers have racked up 3,550 violations and about $314,000 in civil fines since 2007, when the state began issuing citations. Child-labor laws in Massachusetts were tightened then following on-the-job deaths of several teenagers, including a 16-year-old who was killed after losing control of a golf cart at a Salem country club.
But enforcement citations appear to have dropped off dramatically in recent years, according to a Globe analysis. Two-thirds of the violations were recorded between 2007 and 2009, and the attorney general’s office — which eliminated five of 19 inspector positions from its fair labor division in 2011 — has not conducted a statewide sweep of shopping centers since 2008. Last year, the office reported a record low 199 infractions.
Brad Puffer, a spokesman for Attorney General Martha Coakley, said robust enforcement and heightened public awareness have resulted in better compliance with child labor regulations. Puffer also noted the decline in violations could be partly attributed to a lower number of teenagers in the workforce because jobs are scarce in that age bracket.
“The economy has forced adults to take jobs historically held by teens,” he said. “That could change as the economy recovers and we will continue to ensure that all minors are treated fairly in the workplace.”
Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, said progress has been made in educating employers and teenagers about their rights and responsibilities.
MassCOSH, a workplace safety nonprofit, spearheaded reform of child labor laws. The regulations include restrictions on the hours and type of jobs permissible for workers between 14 and 17 years old and a requirement they obtain working permits that must be kept by their employers.
But Goldstein-Gelb said she is concerned about the large drop in the number of infractions and the lack of spot checks. Shortly after the labor laws were strengthened, sweeps at malls during the summer and holiday seasons, when many teens work, turned up numerous violations. The last one, conducted in summer 2008 at about nine retail outlets, netted more than 100 violations.
They included dozens for minors working without permits at the teen clothing retailer Hollister. The company paid about $4,700 in fines in 2008, on top of a $6,850 penalty in 2007 for citations related to teens working without permits and staying on the job after 10 p.m.
Hollister declined to comment.
“There is a lot more that needs to be done. We are still seeing hospitalizations of youths on the job,” Goldstein-Gelb said. “There are still vulnerable minors who are afraid to speak up about working conditions.”
The attorney general’s office hit businesses with some hefty penalties during the first few years of tougher regulations. Boston Sports Club took the top spot, with $40,000 in fines for about 345 violations in 2007 and 2008. Those infractions included minors working more than nine hours a day (the maximum for 16- and 17-year-olds), working before and after allowable hours, and working without permits.
In 2007, New England Sportservice, which runs concession stands at Comcast Center in Mansfield, received a $12,200 penalty for 121 violations, including 16- and 17-year-olds working more than nine hours a day and after 10 p.m.
Fines can add up quickly for employers with large staffs or those whose records were examined over several years. But individual citations — even for some potentially dangerous violations — are not that costly. For example, the state fined Hillis Corp. in Tewksbury $250 for twice allowing minors to operate forklifts and slapped the national restaurant chain Texas Roadhouse with a $250 penalty for permitting a teenager to handle alcoholic beverages.
Civil penalties allow up to $250 for the first violation, as much as $500 for the second, and a maximum of $2,500 for the third and each subsequent offense.
Many of the business officials interviewed by the Globe said they were unaware of the state’s child labor laws.
Ray Nadira, whose three Pronto Pizza restaurants north of Boston were fined $17,600 for minors working more than nine hours, without permits, and after hours, said he did not understand the various rules.Continued...