GREAT IDEA IOWA! Let Children Work Dangerous Jobs And Then Give Their Employers Civil Immunity!
An exciting new bill introduced in the Iowa Legislature would help ease employers' difficulties finding enough workers by turning to that great old standby of the Gilded Age, child labor. The most awesome part of the bill, at least from the perspective of those yearning for the days of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, is a provision that would allow 14- to 17-year-olds to work in jobs that had been up to now been prohibited for younger workers, as long as the work is part of an "approved training program."
The Des Moines Register explains that the new bill, Senate File 167, keeps in place the current law's list of jobs that teens can work, like bagging groceries, office work, and food service. It also includes the same list of prohibited jobs for workers under 18, at least on paper:
such as working in slaughterhouses, meatpacking or rendering plants; mining; operating power-driven metal forming, punching or shearing machines; operating band or circular saws, guillotine shears or paper balers; or being involved in roofing operations or demolition work. It makes a few modifications, such as removing a prohibition against 14- and 15-year-olds working in freezers and meat coolers.
So apart from the meat cooler and freezer thing, no dangerous jerbs for teens, hooray. Except, of course, for the new section of the bill that would allow teens 14 to 17 to work any of those prohibited jobs if they're "participating in work-based learning or a school or employer-administered, work-related program."
There's so much more to this, it's not even funny.
Drivers in a West Virginia coal mine. Library of Congress. Photo by Lewis Hines, National Archives
Now, the Register does note that to qualify for an exception from the prohibited jobs list, the applicants
must demonstrate "the activity will be performed under adequate supervision and training;" that "the training includes adequate safety precautions;" and that "the terms and conditions of the proposed employment will not interfere with the; and health, well-being, or schooling of the minor enrolled in an approved program."
The Register notes that violations of the job-training provisions of the law could result in companies being fined up to $10,000 per violation but that "the state's labor commissioner could reduce or waive the penalty."
There's also this fun fact: The bill "exempts businesses from civil liability if a student is sickened, injured or killed due to the company's negligence," because sometimes an educational or training program has to include some harsh lessons about the nature of the working world. Businesses also couldn't be held liable if teens were injured due to the kid's own negligence on the job — look, we told them to wear goggles while operating the band saw! — or if the teen has a traffic accident while driving to work.
Oh yes, and most teens in these programs would become able to drive to work, even before the regular age to get a learner's permit, by getting a special driver's license, available from the state Transportation Department to kids 14 and a half and up. More training!
In addition, a separate section of the bill would let 16- and 17-year-olds serve alcohol, but only with parental permission. Again, it's simply UNPOSSIBLE to think of any ways that a bar employing 16-year-old cocktail waitresses could be even the least bit problematic. This part of the bill doesn't appear to require that the young barkeeps be in a job-training program. So hey, better than working in a mine!
Also, to offer teen workers greater opportunity to meet the needs of employers who can't attract adult workers without paying higher wages (gosh, we're cynical), the bill tosses out the old nanny-state assumption that kids need to get enough sleep so they can learn in school by allowing teens under 16 to work until 9 PM during the school year (the current limit is 7 PM), and until 11 PM from June 1 through Labor day.
Extending the hours that children can work is also the focus of a new Ohio bill that — big surprise — has the support of the state's restaurant association, because Ohio restaurateurs just can't find enough people who love rude customers, harried work schedules, and low wages. Ohio Senate Bill 30 would let 14- and 15-year olds work until 9 PM, as long as they have parental permission. Again that's up from 7 PM during the school year, although it doesn't look like the existing summertime 9 PM limit would change for those younger teens.
Kids aged 16 and 17 would be allowed to work until 11 PM on school nights, and that wouldn't even require parental permission. But not in dangerous jobs or serving alcohol, so Ohio is some kind of socialist child labor paradise compared to Iowa.
News 5 Cleveland at least spoke to an academic who pointed out that this is kind of nuts:
Employment law expert and professor at Case Western Reserve University Sharona Hoffman says just because a parent consents, doesn’t mean it's a good idea — like how Ohio allowed for child marriages with parental and judicial consent up until 2019.
"We don't need to give parents choices in some areas if we are able to determine that that choice is a really bad choice," Hoffman said.
The lawyer added that these teens have enough on their plates with homework and school activities, plus they aren’t able to drive, so safety concerns would also play into the bill.
Hilariously, John Barker, the head of the restaurant association, thinks this would be just wonderful and that kids would love the chance to earn some extra spending money for video games and shopping, and also it would be good for the economy.
At least Ohio Republicans aren't yet calling for the reinstitution of child marriage, but we wouldn't put it past them. If the loosened child labor law passes, maybe it could be followed up with a bill to let child brides drive, too, so they can get a nice gift for their loving 50-year-old husbands who gave them a ride home from work that one time when the bus was late.
[Des Moines Register / Iowa Senate File 167 (2023) / Mother Jones / News 5 Cleveland / Ohio Senate Bill 30 ]
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