April 25, 2024

Mercedes Schneider: Louisiana: Lunch Breaks in Question for Teen Workers

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Teacher and researcher Mercedes Schneider always does her homework. Here’s one data point in the new drive to replace school with work for young people (aka “cheap labor pool”)–a Louisiana bill putting the needs of employers over those of the teens they employ, and you’ll never guess what business the bill’s author is in. Reposted with permission. 

On April 18, 2024, the Louisiana House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations advanced a bill that would remove Louisiana employers’ requirement to provide a 30-minute meal break to minors who worked 5 hours.

According to his “about” page, the author of the meal requirement repeal, Rep. Roger Wilder, owns 19 Smoothie King stores.

Easy enough to see the writing on the Smoothie King wall.

Roger Wilder

Regarding employers providing required meal breaks for Louisiana minors, the current law reads as follows:

No minor under the age of 18 years may be employed, permitted, or suffered to work for any five hour period without one interval of at least thirty minutes within such period for meals. Such interval shall not be included as part of the working hours of the day.

Wilder’s proposed law, HB 156, is a one-page document that simply “Repeals the provision of law relative to recreation or meal periods for minors.” There is nothing in the wording of the replacement law tor ensure that minors who do want a meal break will get one.

And yet, ironically, the author of the bill, La. Rep. Roger Wilder, flippantly expects “a break” from public reaction to his proposed bill, as WWLTV.com reports:

“This bill is about maximizing employment and providing employers with the workforce they need,” Rep. Wilder said Friday while presenting his bill to the committee.

Wilder says the break shouldn’t be a requirement, instead, he says children should be able to choose to take a break, both because they should be treated as adults and because they are losing wages.

“The wording here is we’re here to harm children that’s the wording. Give me a break they’re young adults,” Wilder said. “The emancipation age is 16, you’re allowed to marry at 16, you’re allowed to drive at 16. Those are all adult actions.”

I haven’t been 16 for 40 years, and still, my employer is required to provide me with a lunch break. Whether I choose to eat, or even whether I decide not to take the break and catch up on work instead, is my choice. My usage of the break notwithstanding, the break is scheduled.

Nothing in Wilder’s repeal guaratees that a Louisiana minor who wishes to have a meal break after working 5 hours will get one. If the current law is repealed, the requirement disappears, and Louisiana employers– especially those whose businesses depend upon teen labor, like, say, those who own and operate Smoothie King stores– and who want to force minors to work for more than 5 hours without a scheduled meal break would therefore be fine to do so since there would literally be no law to stop them.

Bigger Than Just Louisiana

A number of Republican-led states have taken to rolling back child labor laws. It seems that one nonprofit in particular has been actively promoting such repeals: Florida-based Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA). FGA has been a nonprofit since 2011. Its CEO, Tarren Bragdon, is a former Maine legislator who was also once CEO of the ultra-right-wing Maine Heritage Policy Center (now the Maine Policy Institute).

In March 2023, Arkansas governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, signed into law a bill eliminating work certificates for 16-year-olds. From CBS:

The Arkansas law, called the Youth Hiring Act, eliminates a requirement that children under 16 obtain an employment certificate before getting hired — a document that proves the child’s age, describes the work they will undertake, and gives written consent from the child’s parent or guardian, according to CBS affiliate KNOE.

Cut to April 2024, when Bragdon congratulates Sanders on Twitter/X for being chosen as FGA’s 2023 Governor of the Year:

In 2023, the Working Economics Blog of the Economic Policy Institute published this piece regarding FGA as catalyst for systematically undoing child labor restrictions in numerous states. Some excerpts:

Updated November 14, 2023

This post has been updated to reflect confirmation of the Foundation for Government Accountability’s role in drafting the proposal to roll back child labor protections in Florida. Previously, the post indicated the group’s support for similar bills in other states and the likelihood of their involvement in Florida.

Last week, Florida became at least the 16th state to introduce legislation rolling back child labor protections in the past two years, and the 13th state to introduce such legislation in 2023. Florida’s bill proposes eliminating all guidelines on hours employers can schedule youth ages 16 or 17 to work, allowing employers to schedule teens to work unlimited hours per day or per week—including overnight shifts on school days. The bill was drafted by the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA)—a Florida-based right-wing dark money group that has lobbied for similar proposals in multiple states.

At a time when violations of child labor laws are on the rise nationally—and amid reports of serious violations in Florida—lawmakers must act to strengthen standards, not erode existing minimal standards designed to keep youth safe at work and guarantee all children equal access to education.

Florida-based “Foundation for Government Accountability” has led national push for state legislation to weaken child labor laws and increase economic desperation of poor children and families

As documented in our earlier report, multiple business and industry lobby groups continue to support rolling back state child labor laws in the interest of maintaining or expanding their access to low-wage labor. Recent reporting has further emphasized the role of the right-wing think tank and dark money group the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) and its lobbying arm Opportunity Solutions Project in using funding from billionaire donors to accelerate state legislative action on child labor laws in 2023. FGA’s efforts have focused especially on extending youth hours of work and eliminating youth work permits, which inform parents of a child’s rights at work, facilitate compliance with child labor laws, and can be used to aid in investigations of potential violations of the laws. Now, FGA is working to roll back child labor laws in its home state. According to documents obtained via an open records request filed by nonprofit news organization More Perfect Union, the language in House Bill 49 is nearly identical to language drafted by FGA’s lobbying arm just weeks earlier.

FGA has over 100 lobbyists in 22 states. When FGA has lobbied for the erosion of child labor protections in states like Arkansas, Iowa, and Missouri, they have simultaneously prioritized state law changes to limit access to anti-poverty programs like SNAP and Medicaid, cut unemployment insurance benefits, and support defunding public education through expansion of school vouchers in the same states.

In this context, dismantling child labor laws is just one prong of a broad agenda FGA promotes to weaken and eventually demolish the role of government and public institutions (including public schools), reduce and privatize the provision of public services (especially those most needed by poor children and families), and suppress the democratic process. Taken together, FGA’s priorities represent a radical, multilayered assault on low-income families and on a consensus embedded in U.S. federal and state laws for over a century that all children deserve equal access to economic opportunity and education.

Global advocates against exploitative child labor have long documented that family poverty is the root cause of oppressive child labor. Increasing the economic desperation of poor families in the U.S. will inevitably increase the number of children driven into oppressive child labor—defined in the FLSA since 1938 as employment of youth that interferes with a child’s schooling, is “particularly hazardous,” or is “detrimental to their health or well-being.”

For an organization pushing for “accountability” from government, to seems that FGA is not quick to disclose its donors. For example, FGA’s 2022 annual report includes zero mention of its funders. In its 2022 tax filing, regarding its decison to conceal its donors, on Schedule O, FGA states, “The organization declines to provide specific identifying information on its donors on the grounds that such disclosure may chill the donors’ First Amendment right to associate in private with the organization.”

Privacy and the First Amendment sounds lofty; however, no explanation was needed since the IRS notes that “A tax-exempt organization is generally not required to disclose publicly the names or addresses of its contributors set forth on its annual return” except for “private foundations ” or “political organizations described in section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code.” FGA is neither of these.

Even though FGA does not need to disclose its funders, the flip side is that nonprofits must disclose grant recipients if those grants are $5k or more. Therefore, one way of knowing FGA’s donors is to find out which nonprofits reported disbursing grant money to FGA.

In this case, ProPublica’s full-text search engine (keyword “foundation for governmental accountability” including quotation marks) offers pages of FGA donors from 2012 to 2022, including 28 hits for 2022, such as Morgan Stanley Global Impact Fund Trust, Schwab Charitable Fund, and Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program, Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund, Chase Foundation, State Policy Network, Amazonsmile Foundation, and Donors Trust.

If these donor names become more publicly connected to legislative efforts to treat children as workhorses, perhaps they will rethink supporting the likes of FGA and the self-serving willingness for anyone to promote policies that exploit minors in the work force.

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