Anchorage Assembly member fined for violations of child-labor laws at Bosco's stores

A local comic-book and game store owner, who is also an Anchorage Assembly member, has been fined nearly $5,000 for violating federal child-labor laws at the store's two locations.

A Thursday statement from the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division said Bosco's owner John Weddleton, who was elected to a South Anchorage Assembly seat this year, agreed to pay a $4,650 fine and $126 in lost overtime wages to two employees. The penalties stem from violations of the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, including overtime and bookkeeping problems.

"Specifically, (Bosco's) violated child labor law by requiring a 15-year-old worker to load an industrial-grade trash compactor, prohibited by law for workers under 18 years old, as a regular part of his duties," federal authorities wrote. "The division also cited the company for employing two 15-year-olds outside of allowable time standards for children under 16 years of age. These employees worked longer than three hours on a school day and later than 7 p.m. during the school year, both of which the FLSA prohibits."

Jeanette Aranda, director of the Wage and Hour Division's Seattle office, said investigators had audited all of Bosco's activities during a two-year time period, spanning April 2014 to April 2016. The division can audit a business on its own initiative or in response to complaints, but Aranda declined to say why Bosco's was targeted.

Both Aranda and Weddleton said the trash-compactor issue, which occurred at Bosco's store in the Dimond Center mall, was a result of managers not being familiar with the prohibition on underage workers either operating or putting material into a compactor. Weddleton said that operating the compactor involves pushing a button to crush its contents.

"Not knowing the law is common, but ignorance is not acceptable," Aranda said. "It's important that (Weddleton) came into compliance."

According to Aranda, the audit, which included a full examination of whether employees were paid at least minimum wage and whether overtime was accurately paid, didn't find any other workers who were owed back pay.

"We looked at everyone," Aranda said. "The employer was very cooperative, and we very quickly enforced the child labor issue at hand."

Weddleton described the excess hours for the employees as an oversight, saying both of them had worked past their scheduled hours.

"We run a very careful business and pay our people properly," said Weddleton, who made his small-business ownership a key piece of his campaign for Assembly. "It's frustrating to get dinged."

He said Bosco's rarely hires young people and now will no longer consider hiring 15-year-olds.

During the audit, Weddleton said, labor regulators reviewed three years of timesheets between March 2013 and March 2016 from Bosco's stores on Spenard Road and in the Dimond Center.

According to regulators, Weddleton also agreed to provide training to employees on Fair Labor Standards Act compliance, as well as updating citations in the company's employee handbook.

Devin Kelly contributed information to this story.