Firing of young grocery baggers causes uproar
The dismissal of eight young grocery baggers, who had apparently been working in violation of child labor laws at the local supermarket, is the talk of the town in Snowmass Village this week.
Oddly enough, at the center of the uproar is the town’s weekly newspaper, the Snowmass Sun, which is taking flak for putting the kids out of work with a story it never published.
The paper had planned to run a “human interest” feature this week about working children, including the youngsters who bag groceries at The Village Market, the town’s only grocery store. The story never made it into print, but while researching the story, interim editor Lisa Magloff discovered it is a violation of state and federal labor laws to employ baggers under the age of 14. When Magloff informed Village Market manager Jim Schrock of her findings, the eight baggers were promptly released from their duties.
“We had to follow the rules,” said Schrock.
No one disputes that the grocery store was unwittingly in violation of the law. But some parents of the now-unemployed baggers question the Sun’s role in the affair. Most vocal among the critics is Town Councilman Mark Brady, whose son lost his job at the market.
Calling the Sun’s actions irresponsible and inappropriate, Brady has publicly called for a boycott of the newspaper.
“If this was prompted by a complaint by a customer, parent or child involved it would be different. But the Sun took it upon themselves to investigate this, unsolicited by anyone,” Brady said.
Brady also finds fault with Magloff for failing to inform the manager of an exemption process for the law in question.
“You may call your investigation appropriate; I call it irresponsible and unreasonable in light of what it was seeking to disclose, the effect that it would have and the complete lack of benefit that it provides to the community,” wrote Brady in a letter to the editor (it appears on page 9).
In response, Sun Publisher Carolyn Sackariason said she’s “dumbfounded” by both the firings and the subsequent furor over the story.
“I had no intent of having those children fired. … I feel extremely horrible that the kids lost their jobs,” Sackariason said. “But we felt an obligation to tell the manager what we learned and what he does with that information is out of my hands.”
Of the out-of-work baggers, the youngest is 9 years old, but most are sixth- or seventh-graders, ranging in age from 11 to 13. They worked mainly during their holiday break but also for a few hours after school or on weekends.
“We all think this is really unfair,” said 11-year-old Joey Stokes, who saved most of his earnings from The Village Market. “I think I learned a lot about responsibility and it was just fun.”
Stokes’ mother, Staci, reserves her anger about the situation for the newspaper.
“I think it was very unprofessional to use their power in that way,” Stokes said. “They may have the right to ask questions, but they were wrong to take it as far as they did.”
But another Snowmass Village resident is defending the newspaper’s role.
“The fact that they got caught shouldn’t be blamed on anybody. The grocery store made an honest mistake and the Sun didn’t do anything wrong,” said Shirley Millard. “I think for parents to blame the paper is irresponsible. I mean, excuse me, but what kind of message does that send to the kids?”
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