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Retail spending drops 0.3 percent in October

WASHINGTON – Americans cut back on spending at retail businesses in October, an indication that some remain cautious about the economic outlook. Superstorm Sandy also depressed car sales and slowed business in the Northeast at the end of the month.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that sales dropped 0.3 percent after three months of gains. Auto sales fell 1.5 percent, the most in more than a year.

Excluding the volatile categories of autos, gas and building materials, sales fell 0.1 percent. That followed a 0.9 percent gain in September for that category. Online and catalog purchases fell 1.8 percent, the most in a year. Electronics and clothing stores also posted lower sales.

Students win back pay for Hershey plant work

HERSHEY, Pa. – Three companies have agreed in a settlement to pay more than $213,000 in back wages to hundreds of foreign students for summer jobs they held at a Hershey candy company facility, the U.S. Department of Labor said Wednesday.

The settlement also requires two of the companies to pay fines totaling $148,000.

The Hershey Co. was not cited for violations because it contracts out operation of the facility to another company, Exel Inc., Hershey spokesman Jeff Beckman said.

Westerville, Ohio-based Exel, Lemoyne-based SHS Group and the San Clemente, Calif.-based Council for Educational Travel USA agreed to pay $213,042 in back wages to 1,028 foreign students who held summer jobs repackaging candy for promotional displays.

The three companies overcharged the students for housing, reducing their wages below what they were supposed to be paid, the department said.

Exel agreed to pay $143,000 in fines for excessive workplace noise at the Hershey facility, to implement a noise abatement plan there and to take steps to ensure compliance with federal workplace rules at its more than 300 other facilities across the country, the department said. SHS was fined $5,000 for repeated violations of labor standards, it said.

In August 2011, more than 100 foreign students who worked at the facility staged a protest, saying they took the jobs in the belief they would be taking part in a cultural exchange, not working at menial jobs that left them little time or energy to do much else.

Federal officials conducted inspections after the National Guestworker Alliance advocacy group filed a complaint on the students’ behalf.

Water pump problem prompts Toyota recall

TOKYO – Toyota Motor Corp. is recalling 2.77 million vehicles around the world for a water pump problem and a steering shaft defect that may result in faulty steering – the latest in a spate of quality woes for Japan’s top automaker.

No accidents have been reported related to the two problems announced Wednesday, according to Toyota.

Some 1.51 million vehicles are being recalled for the steering defect in Japan and 1.25 million vehicles elsewhere – including 670,000 in the U.S. Affected models include the Prius hybrid, Corolla, Wish and other models produced from 2000 to 2011 in Japan, and from 2000 to 2009 elsewhere.

Of those vehicles, some 620,000 spanning five hybrid models, including the Prius, have a defective water pump in addition to the steering shaft defect. Those vehicles were produced from 2001 to 2010 in Japan, and from 2003 to 2011 elsewhere. Another 10,000 vehicles with only a pump problem are also being recalled.