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Friday, March 9, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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U.S. Says Burger King Broke The Rules -- Child-Labor Laws At Issue In Suit Citing 800 Outlets

Washington Post

WASHINGTON - In its effort to become the nation's No. 1 fast-food chain, Burger King advertises that ``sometimes you've gotta break the rules.''

And that, according to the Labor Department, is just what the Miami-based company did. Yesterday the department said it was filing suit against the company for what it said were repeated violations of child-labor laws at almost every one of the nearly 800 outlets owned by the company.

Burger King, second in size only to McDonald's, is one of the nation's largest employers of young people. The department did not charge any of the company's 4,600 franchise outlets, but indicated charges could be filed later.

Nigel Travis, Burger King's senior vice president for human resources, said yesterday the charges were a surprise. ``This is the first time we have received any indication of alleged violations.''

The department accused Burger King of working children younger than 16 longer and later than the law allows. Under federal law, 14- and 15-year-olds are only allowed to work three hours a day when school is in session and a maximum of 18 hours during a five-day school week. And they are allowed to work only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Different standards apply for farm labor.

The focus of the Labor Department investigation and the majority of the alleged violations were at company-owned facilities in Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and North Carolina.

The suit appears to be one of the largest child-labor-law complaints filed by the department in recent years.

The department will seek financial penalties against Burger King later, officials said.

``This action serves as notice to employers that we will not hesitate to use available legal processes, in addition to investigative efforts, to protect America's children,'' Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole said.

In its complaint, the Labor Department cited child-labor violations at Burger King facilities dating back to September 1986. Grand Metropolitan PLC, a British conglomerate, purchased Burger King in January 1989.

Asked whether the company planned to change its advertising slogan in light of yesterday's developments, a Burger King spokeswoman said, ``Absolutely not. We're talking about breaking the rules for our customers - not the law.''

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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