Saturday, February 18, 2006

No 'A' for effort

Trying to keep kids clean turned Alex Ray into a law-breaker last summer. The New Hampshire restaurateur doesn’t deny that a few of the young people violated wage-and-hour violations by being in the work area of his operation before 7 a.m. It’s the mindless application of the law, the utter disregard for why the kids were there, that burns him. That, and the $5,100 in fines.

Ray doesn’t even fault the state Department of Labor agent who hit him with the penalties months after the infractions, when the kids were safe in school. “The law says, ‘you can’t work before 7, for more than eight hours a day, or more than 40 hours a week,’ “ he said. “We had people there sometimes at 6:30, working eight-and-a-half hours a day, and 41 hours a week. The guy was just doing his job.”

But the violations weren’t counterbalanced against the good Ray was trying to do. He’d offered up one of his restaurants as the setting for a program run by a local organization devoted to keeping kids drug and alcohol-free. Youngsters aged 13 to 15 were encouraged to draft their own business plan and management strategy for a dining room, then put their ideas to a real-world test by working the breakfast shift at Ray’s Common Man Inn in Plymouth. According to press reports from the area, the program had been a hit with parents, guests and, most important, the kids themselves, which prompted some to show up before their 7 a.m. start times. Apparently, some also loaded on the hours.

“We weren’t chaining them to the tables, or having them use slicers,” said Ray. “There was no thought put to it.”

He’s not bagging the program, despite the outlay in fines. “We’ll just figure out a way to do it and stay within the law,” he said.

Ray told me that his fines amounted to $5,100, but local media reports suggested he was able to negotiate a discount.

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