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