The Kids Aren’t Alright. In fact, they could soon be working in dangerous environments such as construction and meatpacking plants.
Child labor in the U.S. has long been thought to be a thing of the past. Although not the first state to do it, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently signed a bill that allows children as young as 14 to work up to 48 hours per week without parental permission. Additionally, children under 16 no longer need the Division of Labor’s permission to work in Arkansas.
Iowa and Ohio also introduced bills to make child labor easier. Here’s what those bills look like:
The bill proposes that children aged 14 and 15 can work in dangerous industries such as meatpacking if they and the employer have the right exemptions. Those exemptions are:
- The child must be “participating in work-based learning or a school or employer-administered, work-related program.”
- The employer must demonstrate “the activity will be performed under adequate supervision and training; the training includes adequate safety precautions; and that the terms and conditions of the proposed employment will not interfere with the health, well-being, or schooling of the minor enrolled in an approved program.”
According to this bill, kids under 16 can work as late as 9pm, and until 11pm during the summer. Although a company can be held liable if a child is hurt during the commute to work, the labor commissioner of Iowa holds the right to waive any such penalty towards a corporation.
The bill proposes that children aged 14-15 can work through 9pm year-round (this bill is actually being reintroduced after it failed to pass in 2021).
Such laws make it easier for children to be exploited in the workforce and ignore decades of hard-won precedent. In a specific example, the proposed bill in Iowa delicately dances around the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Act states that only teenagers who are 16-17 who are “bona-fide student-learners and apprentices” may work with meat-processing machines.
Proponents for the bills say that it puts power in the hands of parents by allowing their children to work more. The reality seems to be that they will be exposed to more hazardous work environments for longer periods of time, giving the corporations the hard labor that they so desperately desire.
In this sense, the bills that are being both introduced and passed are giving corporations more power. Corporations can now hire children as early as their middle school years for dangerous positions, rather than hiring a perfectly capable adult whom they deem unfit.
Corporations should not have the right to hire children. We need to stop child labor laws. And we must stop the ability of corporations to influence the introduction of and advocacy for child labor laws. That means ending corporate rule
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P.S. More background readings on the rolling back of child labor protections can be found here and here.