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Feds eye volunteer labor at Chargers games
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SAN DIEGO (AP) — Federal regulators are investigating whether the use of high school volunteers to take tickets and usher fans at San Diego Chargers games is a violation of child-labor laws.

The U.S. Department of Labor notified the San Diego Unified School District in October that it was looking into agreements with Qualcomm Stadium contractors to use volunteer workers in exchange for contributing money to their student groups.

A Chargers spokesman said the team had no comment on the group-labor practices during games, U-T San Diego ( reported late Thursday. A call to the team by The Associated Press was not immediately returned.

In some cases, students were required to volunteer in order to remain eligible for some sports and music programs, the newspaper said, citing emails from booster groups.

The investigation involves a two-year period that ended in October. The district found that organizations at seven schools had formal or informal group-labor agreements, including six with Qualcomm contractors and one with the San Diego Padres.

The district is cooperating with the investigation and is awaiting recommendations from the labor department, said Bernie Rhinerson, the district's chief of staff.

"We've already informed our principals not to enter into these agreements," he told the AP. "That shouldn't be happening at this point."

Around the nation, high school organizations for decades have pressed students into conducting fundraising activities. However, Rhinerson said the distinction in this case was that contracts were being made with commercial, profit-making entities.

One contract under investigation was between the San Diego High School Associated Student Body and Elite Show Services, which handles security and ushering at the stadium.

The agreement called for 30 volunteers to work at least five of the Chargers' first six home games this year and three of the final four. Elite agreed to donate $40 for each shift up to nine hours and $75 for shifts exceeding nine hours, the newspaper said.

Among other things, federal labor laws bar minors from working more than eight hours a day and require them to be paid at least minimum wage, which in California is $8 an hour.

School district attorney Patrick Frost told Elite in October that the San Diego High School Associated Student Body isn't a legal entity, has no authority to sign contracts, and that contracts from other schools won't be honored.

"All participation by district staff or students in such illegal activity will immediately cease," Frost wrote.

Elite takes pride in helping San Diego charities meet their fundraising goals and is cooperating with the labor department inquiry, said a statement from company President John Kontopuls.

"We anticipate an expeditious and positive outcome," he said.

Ace Parking, which has a Qualcomm contract, requires youth volunteers to be at least 16 and to work in teams led by an adult, while its contributions surpass minimum wage "on a man-hour basis," the company's Keith Jones told the paper.