Overturning child labor laws: top priority for GOP


Republican operatives recently opened up a new front: rolling back child labor laws. In Maine and Missouri, bills have been introduced into state legislatures to overturn legislation first introduced in the 19th century to prevent the exploitation of children.

In Maine, Republican state senators have introduced LD 1345, which would allow a sub-minimum youth "training" wage and significantly increase the number of hours teenagers are permitted to work while in school.

Maine was one of the first states to pass child protection laws in 1847.

The Maine bill, according to AlterNet, would "allow employers to pay anyone under 20 a six-month 'training wage' that falls more than $2 per hour below the minimum wage, eliminate rules establishing a maximum number of hours kids 16 and over can work during school days, allow those under 16 to work up to four hours per school day, allow home-schooled kids to work during school hours and eliminate any limit on how many hours kids of any age can work in agriculture (with a signature from their parents or legal guardians)."

A companion bill, LD 516, would permit teenagers to work up to 11 p.m.

The National Law Employment Project, along with the Maine Peoples Alliance, has taken out a statewide ad in Maine, calling on far-right Gov. Paul LePage not to support the move.

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Gov. LePage enraged the labor movement recently by removing a mural dedicated to workers in the state Department of Labor office.

In Missouri, the proposals are even more drastic. The bill, SB 222, was introduced by state Sen. Jane Cunningham, and, under its provisions, "children under the age of 14 would no longer be barred from employment. They'd also be able to work all hours of the day, no longer need a work permit from their school and be able to work at motels and resorts so long as they're given a place to lay their weary heads each night. Moreover, businesses that employ children would no longer be subject to inspections from the Division of Labor Standards."

Even some Republicans in Maine are alarmed about the bill there. "This bill," writes Maine Republican Mark Bulmer in an op-ed for the Portland Press Herald, "will allow employers to hire fewer people currently in the unemployment line, while maximizing young people's working hours and pocketing more profit."

Bulmer got it right: big business and corporate profits are behind the effort: "Both bills, as you might imagine, are being championed by various industry groups, notably, in Maine, the Maine Restaurant Association," says AlterNet.

While Maine and Missouri are on the front line of the drive to exploit children, a broader effort is at work, as many in the extreme right Republican Party believe that federal protections on child labor are unconstitutional. Among them are Sen. Mike Lee,R-Utah, and GOP presidential hopeful Gary Johnson. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas has also expressed this point of view.

For Maine's Republican politicians, however, the issue seems to be strictly business: "Nobody objects when a kid gets on the bus at 2 p.m. and doesn't get home until 11 o'clock at night, nine hours later, because he or she is off playing a sport -some of those kids are working way more hours than 20," says Sen. Debra Plowman, a Hampden Republican.

Plowman is a sponsor of the bill.

A coalition of labor, families and educators in the last century came to together to oppose child labor to prevent exhausted children from falling asleep in class.

Image: Creative Commons 2.0

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  • This is clearly not a matter of the constitution but a matter of discrimination. What makes a person under 18's work worth less? The fact that they don't have a say in the matter or voice in congress? Why not have adults be paid a training wage as well if that's going to be the case? Also, a teenager may take one or two weeks to be fully trained on the job and yet Maine's proposed bill will allow them to be payed over two dollars less than an adult for over 3 months. Young adults who work full time during the summer will not even have reached that point yet. This will allow companies to hire kids for the time period when they can pay them their training wage, then simply hire new people to replace them when it comes time to make the real minimum wage of a measly $7 and some change an hour. We made labor laws to protect children from employer abuse. Now we are undoing them for what? To make the corporate businesses who don't care about America and who have already done us in richer? This is an outrage to the equality that is supposed to exist in America as stated in the constitution.

    Posted by K. Delcourt, 05/02/2011 10:46am (5 years ago)

  • Why do you think Politicians of both Parties allow our Corporations to set up shops in Countries where there are no labor laws? Cheap labor. Our Corporate friends in China and other countries use cheap labor to produce the goods they sell in America,avoid paying taxesand do not pass all those savings to their American Customers.
    This mess we are in is just as much the fault of the Democrats as the Republicans.

    Posted by SwampFox2U, 04/28/2011 1:26pm (5 years ago)

  • OK, let me get this right.

    Gary Johnson is saying that we should end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan right now, and that we should never have gotten into Libya.

    Yet, you are going out on a limb to say, based on some hypothetical charge, that he's got it out for the children. Granted, Gary Johnson is different from the rest of the GOP gang, but you're the one that lumped them all together.

    Meanwhile, Obama is out killing innocent children everyday. They just happen to have brown skin and live in places like Pakistan and Libya. Poor collateral damage of the drone war that Obama so much loves-- way more than Bush.

    Doesn't it ever occur to you how silly your tribal-like cohesion with all-things Democrat look like? Its a fact that children are getting killed right now by the US government. Perhaps you can become a little more concerned with the facts on the ground, and less with your petty hits of irrationality.

    Posted by JST, 04/26/2011 1:22pm (5 years ago)

  • What comes to mind is the horrible conditions of the 19th century described by Frederic Douglass, the condition of slave children in the United States, (as Art correctly points out children today) and their slave grandmothers and grandfathers. Frederic Douglass, detailing these conditions, singles out the naked exploitation of his grandmother as child bearer,baby-sitter,field hand,house slave,exploited and abused sexual object,(also referencing his beautiful abused aunt)and whipping post.
    No doubt, the right, far right, and those who tacitly condone this movement to re-institute slave conditions on the working class, are part of the despicable movement.
    As the great Robeson told us, there is no middle ground on human freedom, one is either for it, or against it.
    Thanks for this contribution Joe, the movement to restore human and trade union rights, including collective bargaining, needs to include full protection of children, in reform homes, child detention facilities, and young workers in private and state institutions who are wantonly exploited by corporations, while institutionalized. Gerald Horne has done work to expose this particular form of super-exploitation, for super profit.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 04/26/2011 4:26am (5 years ago)

  • Training wage? What's next...."education hours," where the elementary/middle school-age employee receives no pay, but will be permitted to place the job on future resumes?

    Posted by RDC, 04/25/2011 9:56pm (5 years ago)

  • Ahhhhh

    Posted by bob, 04/25/2011 7:49pm (5 years ago)

  • On one hand, LePage and other Tea Party Republicans want to bring back child labor. On the other, they want to cut unemployment benefits for older workers (and raise the social security age), telling older workers to quit "sponging off their neighbors" and to "get a job at McDonalds." They really do want grandparents competing against their own grandchildren for the same lousy jobs. Is there any doubt that whatever the motivations of some of its supporters, this movement is funded by and in the interests of the big corporations that profit from low wages?

    Posted by Art Perlo, 04/25/2011 6:47pm (5 years ago)

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