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Telemarketing Firm Fined for Child Labor Violations

October 1, 2009

Western Wats, a Utah-based market research and political polling company has been fined $550,000 by the Department of Labor for illegally employing three thirteen-year old children and another 1,479 fourteen and fifteen year-olds. The company also paid child employees less than minimum wage, and agreed to pay about $5,000 in back wages.

This is not the first time the Utah polling company hit the national news for its shady operations. During the 2007 McCain/Romney primary race, anti-Romney “push polls” — telemarketing propaganda calls masquerading as neutral political polling — were traced to Western Wats. The company initially denied any connection to the dirty trick, stating “Western Wats has never, currently does not, nor will it ever engage in push polling.”

But in 1996 Western Wats was named as the Utah telemarketing firm responsible for the push poll effort by Bob Dole against his Presidential nomination rival Steve Forbes. The firm has been linked to other similar efforts, and an investigation of the 2007 anti-Romney polls by the New Hampshire Attorney General ultimately named Western Wats as one of the companies responsible for the anti-Romney attacks.

The $550,000 fine this week is being touted by Labor Department officials as “among the highest of its kind ever assessed against a U.S. company.” But in 2008, while employing underpaid children, Western Wats brought in more than $90 million.

Child labor is actually common in at least one sector: farm work. Care providers estimate that just 1 in 5 of migrant farmworker children eligible for Head Start child care programs are enrolled.

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