Iowa becomes the latest state to enact new laws that roll back child labor protections. Beginning July 1, kids 14 to 16 years old are now allowed to work in conditions that are illegal under federal law.
Under the statute, 14- to 15-year-olds can now work until 11 p.m. during the summer, and until 9 p.m. on school nights, two hours longer than what was previously allowed. Kids 16 and up will no longer have hour limits, and will also now be allowed to serve alcohol in restaurants for as long as the kitchen is open.
The new law also limits business liability for an underage worker’s injuries, at the same time allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to register for apprenticeships, internships, or become “student learners” in jobs that the state previously considered too hazardous like factory work, roofing, mining, and meat slaughter.
This arrangement basically allows employers to hire teenagers to do dangerous work for even less cost because it’s “work-based learning.”
At least six GOP states have now passed or at least introduced measures that roll back child labor protections. In contrast, the White House in February vowed to intensify the crackdown on child labor violators after more than 100 minors were revealed to have been working in meatpacking facilities in eight states and the investigation got a lot of media attention.
Among the states pushing for the rollback in child labor protections, Iowa has the most expansive set of measures, basically an overhaul or strip-down of its original child labor laws. The others, including Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio, Georgia, and Minnesota, mainly focus on extending work hours and eliminating work permits and age verification for 16-year-olds and younger.
The Department of Labor has yet to provide a strategy on how it will be tackling child labor violations these new measures might encourage. It already has limited resources, and it has what Bloomberg Law describes as a “limited ability on a practical level to curb any abuse in the states under its founding statute, the Fair Labor Standards Act, which also sets out federal child labor rules.”
Foundation for Government Accountability
To Iowa’s Republican Governor Kim Reynolds, the move to overhaul the state’s child labor protection laws is all about the practical educational experience. “It, you know, teaches the kids a lot, and if they have the time to do it, and they want to earn some additional money, I don’t think we should, you know, discourage that,” she said.
Those in opposition, on the other hand, see a coordinated effort to roll these laws back.
“We got a bill that’s written by industry groups and multinational corporations that are looking for cheap labor out of our kids, and it’s really disappointing,” president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO Charlie Wishman said.
A Washington Post report from May connects these GOP rollbacks to a lobbying group under the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), a Florida-based organization funded by ultraconservatives and Republicans, including the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, and the 85 Fund, a nonprofit connected to conservative activist and Donald Trump ally and judicial adviser Leonard Leo. Leo helped Trump put together the Supreme Court supermajority that would overturn Roe v Wade.
“On the surface, the FGA frames its child worker bills as part of a larger debate surrounding parental rights, including in education and child care. But the state-by-state campaigns, the group’s leader said, help the FGA create openings to deconstruct larger government regulations,” The Post wrote.
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