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Child-Labor Practices at NFL Games Being Investigated

Could students volunteering to usher fans or check tickets at National Football League games be a violation of federal child-labor law?

The U.S. Department of Labor is currently asking those very questions of the San Diego school district, according to the U-T San Diego.

The main issue for the department appears to be a group-contract agreement between the San Diego High School Associated Student Body (ASB) and Elite Show Services, the organization that provides staffing and security at the San Diego Chargers' stadium. The ASB is a group of students gathered to "promote the interests and welfare of the school, its students, and the community," according to the district's website.

The U-T reported that students from the district "work for no pay, in exchange for contributions to their organization." Some students were reportedly required to volunteer to stay eligible for extracurricular activities.

In one case, students would each receive $40 for working up to a nine-hour shift, according to the paper, far below the minimum wage of $8 per hour in California. What's more, the state's child-labor law prohibits minors younger than 18 from working more than eight hours per day.

The federal U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act places no restriction on the number of hours that 16- and 17-year-old children may work, but limits 14- and 15-year-old children to working no more than three hours a day on a school day or eight hours a day on a non-school day.

Under amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act passed in 1996, the federal government allows employers to pay employees who are under 20 years old a wage no less than $4.25 per hour during the first 90 calendar days after being hired. However, since California's minimum wage is higher than the federal youth-minimum wage, the state's standard applies.

An investigator from the federal Labor Department reached out to the San Diego district on Oct. 18, saying that the district would investigate if any volunteer programs had been established, either through the ASB or other groups affiliated with a particular high school, from October 2010 through October of this year.

The same day, a lawyer representing the district sent a letter to Elite Show Services, informing the organization that the San Diego High School ASB was "not a legal entity with authority to enter into contracts on behalf of the district."

As a result, the district considers the alleged contract between the high school's ASB and Elite Show Services to be void. The district informed Elite Show Services that it was immediately halting student participation in any activities that could potentially violate federal child-labor law.

In the federal agency's letter to the school district, the investigator said that four other high schools in the district may have similar deals to that of the high school ASB "volunteer" contract. The department didn't have copies of these contracts, but encouraged the district to "inquire further" with the four schools named.

The district was required to submit all information related to the investigation to the Labor Department by November 16. The department hasn't yet made a ruling based on what was submitted, however.

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