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Iowa Senate passes bill relaxing child labor protections

Employees as young as 14 could work in dangerous jobs and for longer hours.

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) — The Iowa Senate passed a bill early Tuesday that would loosen restrictions on child labor, including allowing underage workers to serve alcohol in restaurants and work longer hours during school days.

State senators worked through the night Monday and passed the bill by a vote of 32-17 in the 50-member chamber just before 5 a.m. Tuesday. Two Republicans joined all Democrats in voting against the bill.

“While the responsibility of having a job might be more valuable than having a paycheck, the reward of the paycheck will allow these youth who want to have a job to possibly save for a car, maybe buy a prom dress, go to a summer camp, take a date out for the weekend," Republican state Senator Adrian Dickey of Packwood, the bill's floor manager, said during debate, according to the Des Moines Register.

With Senate passage, the proposed legislation now moves to the House, where it is likely to pass this session, which began in January and ends in late spring. Republican Governor Kim Reynolds is also expected to sign the bill when it arrives on her desk.

The Senate amended the bill to remove two provisions that had gotten the most criticism: One section as introduced would have exempted employers from certain liability for injuries to juveniles in the workplace. The other provision removed from the bill would have allowed teens to serve alcoholic beverages in bars as well as restaurants.

Legislative initiatives to allow workers as young as 14 to work longer hours and in potentially dangerous conditions have been adopted or are being considered by several other states at the same time the U.S. Department of Labor has sounded alarms about child-labor abuses.

“Since 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor has seen a 69% increase in children being employed illegally by companies,” the department said in a Feb. 27 statement. “In the last fiscal year, the department found 835 companies it investigated had employed more than 3,800 children in violation of labor laws.”

In February the department announced that Packers Sanitation Services Inc., which provides cleaning services to some of the nation’s largest meat and poultry producers, paid $1.5 million in civil penalties after it was found to have employed at least 102 children, from 13 to 17 years of age, in hazardous occupations and had them working overnight shifts at 13 meat processing facilities in eight states.

Federal and state laws protecting against child labor have been around since at least 1938 when Congress enacted such provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Critics of Iowa’s bill have targeted a provision that would allow for exceptions so teens as young as 14 could work in jobs currently banned for minors provided they are part of an approved work-study or job-training program with adult supervision.

Charlie Wishman, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, said at a recent rally at the Iowa State Capitol that legislators need to “keep their hands off Iowa kids.” In a statement released Feb. 27, Wishman said their proposals “fly in the face of common sense as well as decades of research showing that hazardous jobs and excessive work hours can damage teens’ health, development, and education.”

Iowa Republicans, however, have defended the proposed legislation as common-sense changes needed to address the labor shortage in the state.

“This bill was developed with Iowa Workforce Development along with businesses, including grocery stores and restaurants, which hire many individuals under 18,” House Republicans said in a statement on the bill. “Many of the changes adopted in committee also came from suggestions from labor unions and the Iowa State Bar Association.”

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Categories / Civil Rights, Employment, Government, Politics, Regional

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