Last week, the parent company of American Idols Live Tour ‘07’ agreed to pay the New York State Department of Labor $5,000 in fines for 16 child labor violations involving two under age 18 performers.
Earlier this fall, a new television series used children as young as eight years old to scruff out a community of sorts, run by youth, in an isolated New Mexico community. Rumors of injuries, of children performing illegal occupations, and of other exploitation have earned scrutiny of the program. Children participating in the program received $5,000 for their 40 days of round-the-clock on-air entertainment.
Well done to the New York State Department of Labor! Not blinded by the “stars in the eyes” syndrome, it recognized that all working children, regardless of the glamour or lack thereof of the activity, deserve protection from child labor exploitation.
In New York State, employers who use performers under 18 must register with the state to ensure compliance with all labor and worker compensation laws. They have to obtain an employment permit for each minor whose services they use. This provides the state with the information of where and how youth are working in entertainment – are they in a bar? -- are they in a strip club? – are they working three shows a day with no days off – is a portion of their wages being protected in a trust fund – is their education being provided – is it a safe workplace?
The bad news is that protecting children in entertainment is up to the states. The worse news is that 19 states, more than a third, don’t regulate children working in entertainment whatsoever. Twenty-five states do not even require the most basic regulation: the requirement for a work permit. Only a handful has bothered to adequately address the safety, education, financial protection, working conditions, morals, and health of children working in entertainment.
It’s a patchwork quilt of state protections. It’s been a long time since Congress provided the exemption from protection under the Fair Labor Standards Act for children working in entertainment. Who has the guts to take this on and once and for all to pass federal protections for these working children?