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Critics Slam Business-Backed Bill to Expand Child Labor in Iowa

It would allow kids as young as 14 to work in jobs like mining, logging and animal slaughtering.

A McDonald's teen cashier in Vero Beach, Florida, on October 23, 2017.

Labor advocates on Tuesday decried a business-backed bill introduced by Republican state lawmakers in Iowa that would roll back child labor laws so that teens as young as 14 could work in previously prohibited jobs including mining, logging, and animal slaughtering — a proposal one union president called dangerous and “just crazy.”

Senate File 167, introduced by state Sen. Jason Schultz (R-6) would expand job options available to teens — including letting children as young as 14 work in freezers and meat coolers and loading and unloading light tools, under certain conditions.

Teens under 18 would still be generally barred from employment in fields including mining, logging, demolition, and meatpacking, and from operating potentially dangerous machinery and equipment including circular saws, guillotine shears, and punching machines.

However, the Des Moines Register reports the proposed law contains “an entirely new section” that “would allow the Iowa Workforce Development and state Department of Education heads to make exceptions to any of the prohibited jobs for teens 14-17 ‘participating in work-based learning or a school or employer-administered, work-related program.'”

The proposed bill — which comes amid an ongoing labor shortage in Iowa — also expands the hours teens may work, and shields businesses from liability if a minor employee is sickened, injured, or killed as a result of a company’s negligence.

“This is just crazy,” Charlie Wishman, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, told the Des Moines Register. “A kid can still lose an arm in a work-based learning program.”

Wishman said the bill will gut more than a century of child labor protections, many of which were enacted in an era when “children were hurt and killed” on the job.

“The idea of putting children into work activities that could be dangerous is something that is not only irresponsible but reprehensible,” Wishman added.

Iowa state Sen. Claire Celsi (D-16) called the proposed legislation “another sign that the labor market in Iowa is in big trouble.”

“Businesses are so desperate to hire warm bodies that they want politicians to bend child labor laws (and eliminate corporate liability),” she wrote on Twitter.

State Sen. Nate Boulton (D-20), an attorney specializing in labor law, described the bill as “offensive.”

“Putting children at risk, and creating immunity for that risk, is not acceptable,” he told Iowa Starting Line.

As in other states, child labor violations are not uncommon in Iowa, with immigrant minors particularly susceptible to exploitation.

“These efforts to roll back child labor laws overlap with the conservative changes to school curriculum,” tweeted education podcaster and author Jennifer Berkshire. “The through line is an effort to teach kids that free enterprise rules and that the boss is king.”

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