“Federal and state entities must work together to increase accountability and increase enforcement, not to facilitate the illegal hiring of children to do often dangerous jobs,” he said, adding that the Department of Labor will continue to monitor child labor. long-standing federal . protections
This year alone, lawmakers in seven states, including Iowa, have introduced or passed bills that would ease child labor laws.
“Even though we are finding that child labor is more widespread and dangerous than we thought, (these) states have decided, 'Oh, now is a good time to weaken child labor laws,'” said Reid Maki, director and child labor coordinator. of the Coalition Against Child Labor. “So this is terrible. This is really mind blowing.
Not Center-West,Ohio lawmakers reintroduced a billto extend work hours for teens throughout the year from 7 pm to 10 pm. At 9pmMinnesota lawmakers introduced a billto reverse requirements that prevent 16- and 17-year-olds from working in construction.
The Iowa legislature is currently considering aaccountthat would allow exceptions to state law that prohibits children ages 14 to 17 from working in more dangerous industries, such as roofing and mining, among other provisions thatit drew scrutiny from worker and child advocacy groups.
“We had a bill written by industry groups and multinational corporations seeking cheap labor from our children, and it's really disappointing,” said Charlie Wishman, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.
But Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, said valuable experience can be gained when teens work in businesses and learn communication skills, as well as the importance of getting to work on time. “That, you know, teaches kids a lot, and if they have time to do that and want to make some extra money, I don't think we should, you know, discourage that,” she said.
In the south, theThe Arkansas legislature passed a lawremoving age verification requirements for anyone under the age of 16 to prove their age to get a job, andMissouri lawmakers introduced a billthat would extend the working day of adolescents aged 16 and over,7 pm on a school nightat 10 pm
georgia republicansinsertedand then withdrew a bill that would eliminate work permits for children under 18, among other things.
And on the Great Plains, the South Dakota Republicansintroduced a billExtend the working day of children under 14 years of age. But lawmakers quickly withdrew it.
Maki argued that child labor laws need to be strengthened, particularly with regard to work in agriculture. Children as young as 12 can work on a farm because farm workers and domestic workers were placed in a separate category in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which established federal child labor laws.
That distinction was due to racist policymaking by Southern Democrats because, during the 20th century, farmworkers were predominantly black, Maki said.
“We think it's a legacy of racism and, you know, a lot of the kids that are working in the factories and in the fields now are brown,” he said. "And I think that's part of why the law hasn't been amended."
The Association of Farmworker Opportunity ProgramsDear Allthat there are between 400,000 and 500,000 children working on farms in the United States.
Meanwhile, there is also bipartisan pressure in Congress to allow teens to work at family-owned logging companies. Member states with logging interests support him, as does the logging industry.
Idaho Senator Jim Risch, Republican, and Maine Senator Angus King, Independent, introduced the“Law of Future Timber Careers”that would allow 16 and 17 year olds”work in certain mechanized logging operations under parental supervision.In the House, he is sponsored by Maine Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, and Pennsylvania Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson, a Republican.
"Idaho's logging industry has long been a family business, but current law is hindering its future by preventing young men and women from working in their family businesses," Risch said in a statement.
teens in restaurants
Jennifer Sherer, who posted areportfor the nonprofit leftist Economic Policy Institute, with Nina Mast tracking states rolling back child labor laws, she said in an interview that some industry groups have different interests when it comes to child labor laws, but they share a common desire to ease the restrictions.
For example, the restaurant, hospitality, and retail industries have expressed a desire to extend teen work hours during the school year and during vacations, as well as revise "restrictions on the age at which teens they can start serving alcohol in restaurants and bars." .
“They were very clear that they hoped to have access to more young workers and also to be able to work more hours with them,” said Sherer, a senior policy coordinator at the Economic Policy Institute.
In September, the National Restaurant Associationexpressed his supportfor legislation by U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow 14- and 15-year-olds to work between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. throughout the year, in addition to allowing up to 24 hours of work per week.
“If a high school student can play soccer until 9 p.m. m. or play video games late at night, he should be allowed to work too if he wants to,” Johnson said ina declaration.
Last year, two states, New Hampshire and New Jersey, passed laws that would extend the working hours of minors and lower the age for minors to serve alcohol.
In New Hampshire, legislatorspassed a billwhich lowers the age limit for students at bus counters serving alcohol from 15 to 14 and increases the hours that most 16 and 17 year olds can work when they are in school. This bill was supported by the New Hampshire Restaurant and Lodging Association and the State Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
In New Jersey, teens no longer need parental consent to get work permits, and 16- and 17-year-olds can work up to 50 hours a week, up to 10 hours a day, when not in school. .The checksanctioned by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy also updates the hours that 14- and 15-year-olds can work, a total of 40 hours a week during the summer months.
It was supported by tourism industry groups such as Six Flags and New Jersey trade associations.
In Wisconsin, the Legislature tried to expand work hours for children as young as 14, but Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed the bill in 2022.
Lower wages for youth
Nebraska legislators have introduced legislation thatallow children to receive less,$9 minimum wage for youth ages 14-17 compared tostate minimum wageof $10.50 by 2023. That bill would also set a training minimum wage for employees between the ages of 18 and 20 at $9.25 per hour through 2023 and at 75% of the regular minimum wage beginning in 2027.
“Many people are of the opinion that children can be paid less because … their work should be worth less because they are children,” said Wishman of the Iowa Federation of Labor.
“We definitely don't agree with that,” he said.
The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Nebraska Food Industry Association have expressed their support for this bill.
Mast, of the Economic Policy Institute, said Nebraska's proposal would go against a ballot measure the state voted on last year that agreed to raise the minimum wage from $9 to $15 an hour.
Migrant minors at risk
Other industries like meatpacking, construction and other manufacturing sectors are “clearly looking to open up more job categories to young people, wondering if they can do some of those dangerous assignments that have kept certain workplaces or specific areas of occupation away. limits (for youth),” Sherer said.
Particularly vulnerable to violations of the child labor law are young migrants who arrive alone at the US-Mexico border.
A year-long investigation by theNew York Timesfound hundreds of unaccompanied migrant children working in hazardous jobs in violation of child labor laws.
From October 2021 to September 2022, approximately 130,000 unaccompanied youth were released to sponsors in the US.according to data from the Refugee Resettlement Office.States that have seen some of the largest increases in unaccompanied children are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas, according todata from the Refugee Resettlement Office.
“What we are really seeing is employers hoping to take advantage of a broken immigration system and then reverse patterns of child labor so that there are no consequences for violating the kind of minimal protections that are in place to prevent exploitation of youth,” Sherer said. .
Annie Smith, a law professor who directs theCivil Litigation and Advocacy Clinicat the University of Arkansas School of Law, said children who are undocumented or have undocumented family members may be afraid to report employment violations for fear of deportation.
“What I can say in representing undocumented clients and other forms of labor exploitation is that there is an increased risk of all forms of exploitation among those who have fragile or no immigration status, so this is also true for children.” . Smith said...
In late February, the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human ServicesAnnouncednew efforts to end child labor, following the New York Times report.
Investigations, rapes on the rise
The Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division said thatsince 2015, the agency sawincreasein investigations and violations of child labor”.
During fiscal year 2022, there were 835 companies that employed more than 3,800 children in violation of labor laws. That's an increase from fiscal year 2015, when 542 businesses employed more than 1,000 children in violation of labor laws.
The number of children reporting working in hazardous occupations such as roofing construction has also increased. In fiscal year 2015, there were 355 children working in violation of hazardous occupations and in fiscal year 2022, there were 688,the highest number since fiscal 2011.
The Department of Labor recently issued civil penaltiesto Packers Sanitation Services Inc, a company that cleans meatpacking plants, for $1.5 million for employing children as young as 13 to work in hazardous conditions.
The agency investigated 13 factories in eight states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska and Tennessee. Packers employed more than 20 children at three meatpacking plants in Nebraska, Kansas and Minnesota.
The agency found that boys ages 13 to 17 were spending nights cleaning equipment like head cutters, back saws, and chest saws, and were exposed to dangerous chemicals like ammonia. Three of those 102 children were injured on the job.
US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, and Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, on March 30.he wroteto the CEO of Packers, asking if the company had implemented changes to prevent the hiring of underage workers.
Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii,inserteda bill to establish criminal penalties and increase the maximum fines for child labor violations. But it looks like it won't get very far.
The bill has no Republican cosponsors and is unlikely to pass Congress with a Republican-controlled House and a 60-vote threshold needed to pass the Senate.
Child labor laws date back to 1836
Laura Kellams, Northwest Arkansas director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said child labor laws are not only intended to protect a child from participating in dangerous work environments, but also to ensure that children attend the school.
Two boys climb power looms to reach the top shelf while working at a cotton mill in Georgia. (Photo by the Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
“The laws are designed to prevent injury and they are also designed to protect a child's educational ability and opportunity,” he said.
Massachusetts was the first state to pass child labor laws in 1836 that required children under the age of 15 who worked in factories to attend school for a minimum of three months of the year.
It would take little more than a century to have a national labor law that would protect children.
But in Arkansas, advocates fear that the education of vulnerable students is at risk.
About a new Arkansas lawreviewing public education, there is a provision that allows eighth grade students to pursue a "career preparation pathway," where one of those pathways is "immediate entry into a career field."
Josh Price, of the nonprofit immigrant rights group Arkansas United, said the language allows schools to recommend that an eighth-grader, ages 13 to 14, drop out of school and go directly to work.
“We fear this is happening all too often, particularly with black and brown children and especially if they are from the immigrant community and English is not their first language,” Price said.
— Robin Opsahl and Casey Quinlan contributed to this report.
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