Utah Jazz fans could have gotten their fill of popcorn and soda during the playoff season this year, but not from anyone under 16 years old who once worked for the Salt Palace's vending service.
The U.S. Labor Department cracked down on Western Food Service, notifying them before the May 13 Los Angeles Lakers game of child labor laws prohibiting 14- and 15-year-olds from working past 7 p.m. - when most Jazz games occur.The move angered some parents, who charge the Labor Department is selectively enforcing the laws for no valid reason.
But the federal agency stands behind the law and its enforcement, saying the actions are in the best interest of children.
"The actions of the Labor Department on this matter are a waste of taxpayers money. This is not broken, and the Labor Department does not need to fix it," said Timothy Tate, whose son works for the company.
In a prepared statement distributed to the media, Tate said, "Many of the vendors are from low-income households, and the loss of this source of income will hurt."
"I think that they (the Labor Department) have got time and people that they need to find something to do for, so they went around doing this," he told the Deseret News, adding the agency has only recently begun to enforce the 50-year-old law.
But the department's area director in Salt Lake City disputed Tate's claims, saying, "There have been other attempts to enforce the law in the same situation," referring to the Western Food conflict.
"My primary responsibility is that these children . . . keep in school. If they're working until 10 at night, they spend the next day sleeping in class instead of studying," the department's Ruth Bauman said.
"What's wrong with letting kids just be kids," Bauman said.
As for Tate's charges the agency is enforcing the law out of idleness, Bauman said, "He couldn't be further from the truth because it was a real inconvenience to my staff that we took the time to handle this one . . .. We're running about a six-month backlog."
Tate said he contacted Utah congressional representatives to suggest changing the federal statutes that restrict his son from working the crowd at the Salt Palace and Utah State Fairgrounds, as he did as a youngster.
Tate said 30 young vendors lost their jobs, but a Western Foods spokesman said less than a dozen were were not permitted to work.