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Calling a federal settlement with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. a sweetheart deal, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Wednesday he will ask other states to join in investigating allegations the world’s largest retailer broke child labor laws. Wal-Mart agreed to pay $135,540 to settle federal child-labor charges, the Labor Department said last weekend. The 24 violations, which occurred at stores in Arkansas, Connecticut and New Hampshire, involved 85 teenage workers who used hazardous equipment such as a chain saw, paper balers and fork lifts. Child labor laws prohibit anyone under 18 from operating hazardous equipment. Critics have labeled the settlement paltry, and lambasted a provision requiring labor officials to give Wal-Mart 15 days notice before starting any investigation of alleged violations of wage and hour laws. Wal-Mart denied the allegations but agreed to pay the penalty. “For Wal-Mart, this amount of money is less than a pittance,” Blumenthal said Wednesday. “But the nature of the violations is extraordinarily severe and serious, particularly as they effect Connecticut children. The federal settlement has all the markings of a sweetheart deal.” Blumenthal said providing Wal-Mart with advanced notice of future investigations “enables changes in practices and even destruction of evidence if they receive a notice so far in advance.” Blumenthal said he planned to contact officials in the other states by the end of the week to see if they want to join his investigation. Labor Department officials defended the settlement, saying it is a standard arrangement similar to other settlements and that Wal-Mart actually was fined at a higher amount per violation than other retailers. The settlement also provides for training on child labor law compliance, officials said. “Wal-Mart settled this matter with the department and committed to take specific measures to ensure that all its stores are in compliance with youth employment laws in the future,” said Victoria A. Lipnic, assistant secretary for the department’s Employment Standards Administration. Gus Whitcomb, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, also called the agreement standard and said it would strengthen compliance. “We believe the agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor resolves this issue,” Whitcomb said. “But if the Attorney General wants to go through with his own investigation, then Wal-Mart will cooperate with him.” The allegations, which occurred between 1998 and 2002, involved one case in New Hampshire where a youth was using a chain saw to trim Christmas trees. A majority of the cases in Connecticut involved children loading paper balers. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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