April 13, 2023

Mercedes Schneider: Jesus Loves the Little Children, So Let’s Exploit Child Labor

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Writer, teacher and researcher Mercedes Schneider takes a look at the recent rise in laws designed to remove protections for child workers. Reposted with permission

The corporate world is short on workers, sooo, let’s see what states will pass legislation to loosen restrictions on child labor.

This drive reminds me of the blindside on K12 education that is Common Core– the justification (and assumption) being that the chief purpose K12 education is to “prepare students for 21st century jobs.”

Well, its the 21st century, and it seems that business is short on boidies, and any warm body will do.

So, on this Easter as I think of Jesus, who brought to the attention of his male-centric cuture the importance of considering children as people valuable in their own right, I also think of the primarily-Republican push to feed children to the god of business and industry.

On March 14, 2023, journalist Jacob Knudsen published a piece in Axios, stunningly entitled, “Lawmakers Target Child Labor Laws to Ease Worker Shortage.”

Forget childhood. We must appease the god of business and industry.

Knudsen writes, in part,

Legislators in multiple states are invoking a widespread labor shortage to push bills that would weaken long-standing child labor laws.

Why it matters: Some bills go beyond expanding eligibility or working hours for run-of-the-mill teen jobs. They’d make it easier for kids to fill physically demanding roles at potentially hazardous work sites. …

Driving the news: A new Arkansas law signed by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) last week makes it easier for teens as young as 14 to work without obtaining a permit.

Between the lines: The laws and proposals have largely been introduced by Republicans but received support from some Democrats in Ohio and New Jersey. …

Zoom in: Iowa lawmakers are considering Republican legislation that would allow 14- and 15-year-olds to work in industrial laundry services and freezers at meatpacking plants. It’d also prevent many of them from receiving worker’s compensation if they are sickened, injured or killed on the job.

The Iowa legislation referenced above is astounding. Sure enough, here is the language that saves the business from any liability, including death of a student (page 13):

A business that accepts a secondary student in a work-based learning program shall not be subject to civil liability for any claim for bodily injury to the student for sickness or death by accident of the student arising from the business’s negligent act or omission during the student’s participation in the work-based learning program at the business or worksite.

There is a concession for “gross negligence or willful misconduct” (page 13):

This section shall not be construed to provide immunity for a student or business for civil liability arising from gross negligence or willful misconduct.

However, the Iowa bill is really splitting hairs here since the “business’s negligent act or omission” was just declared to be outside of civil liability for the student as plaintiff– even as this “gross negligence or willful misconduct” clause also allows for civil action with the business as plaintiff.

What a win for Iowa business– cheap (cost-free?) labor, bubble-wrapped in anti-civil-liability padding.

Continuing Knudsen’s article:

Democrats and Republicans in Ohio are considering removing a cap on the number of hours children as young as 14 can work during the school year as long as a parent or legal guardian approves. …

It should come as no surprise that — deprived of able-bodied adults — companies are more willing than ever to hire youngsters to do the jobs their elders won’t. …

…Michael Hancock, a civil rights and employment attorney and a former senior Department of Labor official… said younger workers risk falling behind in school and may be more likely to accept lower wages because they don’t know the value of their labor.

Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, said the provision in the Iowa bill that shields businesses from some liabilities essentially acknowledges the legislation would create dangerous working environments.

  • “This one is so blatantly saying, ‘We know that what we’re doing is going to harm young people, so we may as well just call a spade a spade and exempt businesses from their responsibility for what we created,’” Goldstein-Gelb said.

The big picture: The federal government promised to crack down on illegal child labor last month after observing a 69% increase in companies employing underage workers since 2018.

  • One of the nation’s largest food sanitation companies, Packing Sanitation Services, was fined $1.5 million for illegally employing more than 100 minors to carry out hazardous jobs at its facilities.
  • Hundreds of underage migrants work in factories and at construction sites across the country in violation of federal child labor laws, according to a New York Times investigation. …

“Amid a 69% increase in children employed in violation of the law, it is irresponsible for states to consider loosening child labor protections,” Seema Nanda, solicitor for the U.S. Labor Department, said in a statement.

“Irresponsible,” and yet, here we are.

From Terri Gerstein, for the New York Times via the April 09, 2023, Salt Lake Tribune:

Facing a labor shortage that could have been avoided, it appears that some business interests and lawmakers would prefer to expand the pool of exploitable workers to vulnerable children rather than improve working conditions to attract age-appropriate employees.


The U.S. labor shortage that has employers scrambling should not be a surprise; it’s a foreseeable result of policy decisions of recent years, specifically related to COVID-19 and immigrants.

Many employers, especially in low-wage industries, were cavalier with their workers’ health and lives, failing to provide personal protective equipment or improved ventilation. Government enforcement agencies didn’t do enough to safeguard workplace safety, especially in COVID’s early days, when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration response, in the view of many labor organizations, was wholly inadequate.

Predictably, these policies reduced the available labor force.  …

The labor market shortfall also results in part from a decline in immigration and an increase in out-migration, predictable results of anti-immigrant attitudes and policies. …

The shortage, then, is mostly of our own making. Facing this situation, employers could lure people back to the work force by offering better conditions. …

But raising wages for workers, providing benefits and giving signing bonuses would mean slimmer profits…. Instead, some employers and some business interests are turning to the most vulnerable and exploitable work force around: children.

This exploitation (make no mistake that this loosening of child labor laws in numerous states is exactly that) has at its center a lack of planning combined with the desire for a lower bottom line (and greater profits). Many of my teenaged students already drag themselves to school, only to fall asleep in class with the apology that “I had to close last night.” Therefore, making it easier for employers to squeeze even more out of school-aged employees even as society expects of them (and their schools) stellar academic results (dog whistle: test scores) is indeed speaking out of both ends of a hypocritical, corporate-adulating mouth.

Jesus loves the little children, sooo let’s exploit their labor potential, even for dangerous jobs, as we simultaneously absolve ourselves of any responsibility– even death.

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