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News Briefs

To Avoid Fuel Limits, Subaru Turns A Sedan Into a Truck

The New York Times -- DETROIT

Subaru is tweaking some parts of the Outback sedan and wagon this year to meet the specifications of a light truck, the same regulatory category used by pickups and sport utilities. Why? Largely to avoid tougher fuel economy and air pollution standards for cars.

It is the first time an automaker plans to make relatively minor changes in a sedan -- like raising its ground clearance by about an inch and a half -- so it can qualify as a light truck. But it is hardly the first time an automaker has taken advantage of the nation’s complex fuel regulations, which divide each manufacturer’s annual vehicle fleet into two categories. Light trucks will have to average only 21.2 miles a gallon in the 2005 model year. Each automaker’s full fleet of passenger cars must average 27.5 miles a gallon.

Subaru’s strategy highlights what environmentalists, consumer groups and some politicians say is a loophole in the nation’s fuel economy regulations that has undermined the government’s ability to cut gas consumption. The average fuel economy for new vehicles is lower now than it was two decades ago, despite advances in fuel-saving technology.

Wal-Mart Audit Shows Widespread Labor Violations

The New York Times -- An internal audit now under court seal warned top executives at Wal-Mart Stores three years ago that employee records at 128 stores pointed to extensive violations of child-labor laws and state regulations requiring time for breaks and meals.

The audit of one week’s time-clock records for roughly 25,000 employees found 1,371 instances in which minors apparently worked too late at night, worked during school hours or worked too many hours in a day. It also found 60,767 instances in which workers apparently did not take rest breaks, and 15,705 instances suggesting that employees had worked through their mealtimes.

Officials at Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, employing 1.2 million people at its 3,500 stores in the United States, insisted that the audit was meaningless, since what looked like violations could simply reflect employees’ failure to punch in and out for breaks and meals they actually took.

But missed breaks and lunches have become a major issue in more than 40 lawsuits charging Wal-Mart with forcing employees to work without pay through lunch and rest breaks, and several lawyers and former employees who have sued Wal-Mart said the audit only bolstered their cases. They said that many employees continue to complain of missing meals and breaks.