A century ago, the National Consumers League helped write and enact the first child labor laws in states across the country. Today, advocates are dismayed at efforts in two states to roll back protections for working youth.
The League was formed in 1899 and co-chairs the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) the 28-member coalition (www.stopchildlabor.org), that works to maintain and improve standards and protections for children working both in the United States and abroad.
In February, Missouri Republican State Senator Jane Cunningham introduced legislation, SB 222, that would all but repeal the child labor law in the state of Missouri, eliminating the prohibition on employment of children under age 14.
The Missouri legislation:
• removes the restrictions on the maxium number of hours and time of day during which a child may work;
• repeals the requirement that a child ages 14 or 15 obtain a work certificate or work permit in order to be employed;
• allows children under 16 to work in any capacity in a motel, resort, or hotel where sleeping accommodations are furnished; and,
• removes the authority of the director of the Division of Labor Standards to inspect employers who employ children and to require them to keep certain records for children they employ. It also repeals the presumption that the presence of a child in a workplace is evidence of employment.
Recently Maine has joined Missouri as states considering changes to child labor law. Proposed legislation in Maine—now under consideration in the state Senate—would extend hours for teen workers, allowing them to work 24 hours a week during the school year—instead of the current 20—and allowing them to work till 11:00 p.m. instead of the current 10:00 p.m.
A second law under consideration by the Maine legislature would eliminate any cap on the number of hours a 16-year-old may work on a school day. The bill, introduced by Representative David Burns (R – Whiting), would abolish minimum wage protections for high school students under 20 – limiting their income to just $5.25 per hour in the first six months.
The Missouri House has just approved a new budget that would terminate all of the state’s investigators who look into child labor and minimum wage complaints. In 2010, those investigators discovered more than $450,000 violations of child labor laws in Missouri and recovered more than $700,000 for workers from minimum and prevailing wage violations.
“Labor crusader Florence Kelley would be rolling over in her grave,” said NCL’s Sally Greenberg. “This is a new low. There are important historical reasons for the enactment of these basic protections for our young workers. And when they are enforced, these laws do the job, which is to punish those who hire underage workers or pay them a low wage or ask them to do dangerous jobs. These laws work but they must be enforced. Without the threat of investigations into violations of the law, there will be flagrant violations and young workers run the risk of suffering injury or even death on the job.”
NCL believes that Americans support the bedrock principle that children should not be exploited economically, that we need to ensure that our children are treated fairly and allowed to flourish in school.