Chuck E. Cheese's, the international pizza parlor chain launched 34 years ago in San Jose and known for its folksy motto ("Where a kid can be a kid"), has been fined for violating child-labor laws for allowing young workers to operate dangerous equipment.
The U.S. Department of Labor's wage and hour division confirmed Tuesday it had levied fines totaling more than $28,000 against the chain. It said nine Bay Area branches had permitted teenage employees to run on-site trash compactors, a breach of the Fair Labor Standards Act which prohibits youth from working in "hazardous jobs.''
The chain also allowed two minors to run a dough-mixing machine illegally, said authorities.
Celeste Hale, with the Department of Labor's San Francisco office, said the violations turned up during a routine investigation earlier this year and that the chain "immediately took actions to prevent it from occurring again." She said the two machines involved commonly turn up in probes related to illegal use by young workers "because employers often don't know that you can't have minors operating this type of equipment."
Hale said Chuck E. Cheese's has paid the civil penalties and agreed to comply with federal law. The company has also instructed underage employees not to operate the machines and applied stickers to the equipment warning that use by minors is prohibited.
The restaurants cited for illegal use of the trash-compacting equipment included the two in San Jose, along with outlets in Cupertino, Redwood City, Brentwood, Newark, San Bruno and Fairfield.
The dough-mixing culprit was the Chuck E. Cheese's in Rohnert Park.
As of early 2011, the chain had 507 corporately owned and operated restaurants and 47 franchise restaurants in 48 states and seven foreign countries or territories. The first Chuck E. Cheese's was founded in San Jose on Winchester Boulevard in May 1977 by Nolan Bushnell, who also founded Atari. According to its website, "the concept for Chuck E. Cheese's evolved from Mr. Bushnell's belief that there were not enough places where young people could go to play video games that had a family atmosphere."
A Chuck E. Cheese's spokeswoman told the San Francisco Chronicle that the chain had seen the error of its ways. Brenda Holloway, speaking on behalf of the chain's parent company, CEC Entertainment of Irving, Texas, said managers at the implicated parlors were unaware that warning stickers were required on the machinery involved.
"As soon as we were made aware of that, we did correct the deficiencies and paid our fines," Holloway said. "We're walking the straight and narrow now."
Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689 or follow him at patmaymerc on Twitter.