Weakening child labor laws is the Republicans’ latest goal

Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday approved a bill that would eliminate the requirement for children under 16 to have official documentation in order to work. The Arkansas law is now just one of a number of state bills easing restrictions on child labor, despite evidence across the country that young children are already participating in dangerous and exploitative work.

GOP state lawmakers have used the rhetoric of protecting children and giving parents more choice over their children’s lives to justify extreme policies like Tennessee’s. Prohibition of the offer to withdraw Governor Bill Lee Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has banned any of it Instruction about gender identity or sexual orientation in elementary schools. Sanders’ spokeswoman Alexa Henning told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “The governor believes protecting children is most important, but to do so arbitrarily burdens parents to seek government permission for their children to get a job is cumbersome and outdated.”

The new law is called Youth Employment Acteliminates the requirement that 14- and 15-year-olds seeking work obtain a document issued by the Director of the Department of Labor, which includes the child’s work schedule and description of work duties, as well as proof of age and parent or guardian consent.

Sanders signed the bill just weeks after Work section released the results of an investigation that found 102 children between the ages of 13 and 17 working illegally in dangerous jobs such as cleaning meat processing equipment. Ten of these children were working in facilities in Huckabee Arkansas, according to the investigation, 25 of them were working in Minnesota, another state considering easing child labor laws.

Many of the children working in dangerous and illegal jobs are migrants from Central America who come to try to earn money to send back to their families who are struggling due to the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, A recent New York Times investigation found.

Removing the Arkansas documentation requirement “seems to be creating chaos,” Reed Mackey, director of advocacy for the Child Labor Coalition, said. For The Washington Post. This is in addition to a labor and immigration system that fails to protect migrant children from dangerous and stressful jobs that affect their mental and physical health, as well as their ability to go to school.

Republicans have long sought to undermine worker protections, often by attacking labor unions and pushing right-to-work legislation that limits the power of labor unions. Arkansas law offers a troubling new frontier in this direction; It is undermining protections for some of society’s most vulnerable people under the guise of freedom.

The reality of child labor in the United States is devastating

Child labor at the center of the Department of Labor investigation and New York Times story is much more than a summer rescue party at a local pool or packing groceries at the supermarket after school. Those investigations turned up migrant children working long night shifts in factories cleaning meat-slaughtering equipment with dangerous chemicals, in the construction industry, or packing food for huge corporations using fast-moving conveyor belts that could rip off a person’s fingers.

Henning, a spokesman for Sanders, stated that the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which prohibits children under 18 from doing certain hazardous work such as manufacturing or construction, still applies to Arkansas labor practices. The FLSA was enacted in 1938 and limits the number of hours kids work so that they have plenty of time to go to school, do homework, and get enough sleep to stay awake in class.

Relying on a federal system to protect children from exploitative labor is a dubious proposition, though the government has pledged to do more to eradicate child labor. The federal system has failed the most vulnerable children, leaving them vulnerable to dangerous labor practices and exploitation. in Investigated by Hannah Dreyer in The New York TimesChildren I spoke to reported working night shifts in hazardous conditions that affected their health and prevented them from getting enough rest to go to school. Many children dropped out of school so that they could continue to provide for their families back home.

Penalties for breaking child labor laws are minimal, especially for large companies. Packers Sanitation Services Inc. , the subject of a Department of Labor investigation that employed 102 children to clean meat-processing tools such as “backsaws, meat saws, and splitters,” was ordered to pay a $1.5 million fine—just over $15,000 for each child working illegally, the maximum penalty he would allow. the law.

The new Arkansas bill assumes that “corporations [will comply with federal law] Exactly as is required of them now,” Henning said in a statement to Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Although the federal government has pledged to crack down on child labor abuses, the Department of Labor does not currently have the capacity to investigate and punish all reports of child labor abuses, The Washington Post reportsmaking states the practical enforcers of labor laws.

Arkansas Senator Clint Pinzo, a co-sponsor of the bill, told The Democrat-Gazette that he is working with the state attorney general’s office and Rep. Rebecca Burkes, who proposed the bill, to toughen penalties for companies that violate child labor. Laws. Rep. Burkes did not respond to Vox’s request for comment as of press time.

Michael Lazzeri, Regional Wage and Hours Officer at the Department of Labor he said in a statement Their investigation found that Packers Sanitation Services’ systems recognized some young workers as minors, but the company ignored the flags, stating that the risks of fines or violation of federal law were not enough to stop the company from hiring children.

In addition, a multi-step supply chain often means that facilities where children work are not technically employers. Various companies across the country have contracted with the Packers to clean their facilities. When the supply chain is this complex, it’s easy for companies to plausibly deny who works for them.

Other states are about to follow Arkansas’ lead

After decades of reform to try to make work safer for everyone, adults and children alike, the new pushback on child labor in Arkansas seems reactionary, especially given the reality of child labor as revealed by Department of Labor and New York Times investigations.

“The stories of children dropping out of school, collapsing from exhaustion, and even losing limbs to machines are what one would expect to find in a Charles Dickens or Upton Sinclair novel, but it is not an account of everyday life in the year 2023, not in the United States of America,” Representative Hillary Scholten (Democrat -MI) before the House of Representatives in a speech on February 27.

But the pressure to roll back child labor protections isn’t just limited to Arkansas—it follows a decades-long Republican effort to roll back worker protections of all kinds, including the enactment of the law. Right to work legislation and undermining the political power of trade unions.

In a tight labor market like the United States is facing right now, there are more jobs available than workers who want to do those jobs. Employers offering low-wage, low-skilled jobs in particular have tried tactics such as: Give signing bonuses and pay increases To attract workers to jobs they may have left during the COVID-19 pandemic. But this bait hasn’t been enough to fill in the gaps, and some companies refuse to offer the kinds of wages and benefits that would attract adult workers.

“Because of the high demand for workers, where there are loopholes in the system, child laborers can unfortunately get caught up in some of those loopholes,” said David Weil, professor of social policy and management at Brandeis University, For The Washington Post.

states like Missouri, yeahAnd Minnesota Reduced child labor bills are now being considered, and the state of Ohio just passed a law allowing 14- and 15-year-olds to work until 9:00 p.m. all year long.

in Iowa Bill, children under the age of 14 will be allowed to work in certain jobs at meatpacking plants. This bill would also protect companies from liability if a child is injured or killed on the job. The Iowa Department of Labor declined Vox’s request for comment on the bill.

Following the findings of the Department of Labor and the New York Times investigation, the federal government vowed to crack down on child labor abuses, particularly in relation to immigrant children. New initiatives put forward by President Joe Biden’s administration include a proposal to target and hold companies that use child labor in their supply chains accountable — not just small contractors responsible for hiring children. Labor Department officials will also open investigations into states found to be child labor hot spots and ask Congress to increase fines for FLSA violations, The Times reported last month.

But stopping dangerous and exploitative child labor — particularly when it is enabled by failures in multiple systems — requires more vigilance and more protections for vulnerable groups, not less, said labor lawyer Nima Sanda. Washington Post. “No child should work in dangerous workplaces in this country, full stop.”

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