Thursday, March 9, 2023

Relaxing child labor protections is not the solution to our labor problem

Ohio's Senate recently passed legislation that, if signed into law, would make it easier for businesses to employ 14- and 15-year-old children. SB 30 would amend Ohio's current child labor laws to permit 14- and 15-year-olds to work later than 7 pm during the school term with "approval to do so from the person's parent or legal guardian." 

According to State Sen. Tim Shaffer, a Fairfield County Republican, he sponsored the bill to help solve Covid-related workforce shortages, in addition to teaching teens necessary work skills: "Learning how to show up on time, learning how to follow direction and execute commands and execute missions — I know at that age it was critically important for me. And this will certainly help employers across Ohio with their staffing problems as well."

I think we can solve both of those goals without undoing decades of labor protections for children. But at least Ohio's solution is not as offensive as those proposed in some other states.

Arkansas, for example, recently enacted a law eliminating any state requirements to verify that children are at least 16 years old. According to that bill's sponsor, it was needed to eliminate "one small burden on businesses, and also steps in front of parents' decision-making process about whether their child under 16 years of age can get a job." Unscrupulous businesses certainly won't take advantage of this new loophole. 🤦‍♂️

Minnesota lawmakers are trying to change their laws to permit children ages 16 and 17 to work construction jobs.

Iowa takes the awfulness cake. Its legislature has proposed a law that would allow children at least 15 years old to sell alcohol and children at least 14 years old to work specific non-hazardous jobs in meatpacking plants. (Bear in mind that DHS has an open and ongoing investigation into the human trafficking of children who clean slaughterhouses.) As if that's not bad enough, the Iowa bill would also severely limit companies' liability if a child got sick, injured, or killed at work as the result of the employer's negligence (capped at a mere $10,000).

We've lost our collective mind. There are lots of ways to address our current and ongoing labor shortages. But relaxing laws have been in place since 1938, and were enacted to stop the specific abuses that these new laws seem to want to bring back, is not the answer. Certain legislators are quick to say that we need to "protect our children" (e.g., the current wave of anti-transgender bills). Apparently, however, "protecting our children" is only a priority in the culture wars, and not when there's money to be made.