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Florida May Be the Next State to Loosen Child Labor Protections

“They see children as expendable and exploitable cheap labor for capital,” one activist said.

Fast food workers protest at the closed Popeyes Louisiana Chicken on International Boulevard near 70th Avenue in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, May 18, 2023.

A House Republican in Florida introduced a bill on Monday that would gut child labor laws in the state, allowing minors to work full time and overnight.

Currently in Florida, 16 and 17-year-old youths are barred from working more than eight hours when school is scheduled the next day and more than 30 hours a week when school is in session. This bill would lift those restrictions, and allow minors to work before 6:30 a.m. and after 11 p.m.

“If passed, this bill could harm the well-being and education of our young people,” a petition to “Stop Rolling Back Child Labor Laws in Florida” says. “Therefore, it is crucial to oppose this bill and prioritize the welfare of our youth over potential economic gains.”

Department of Labor (DOL) investigators are seeing a spike in cases of child labor across the country. Since 2018, there has been a 69% increase in children employed illegally by companies, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In response to child labor investigations and DOL fines, lawmakers in at least eleven states have either passed or introduced laws to roll back child labor laws at the behest of industry lobbyists.

“While we’re finding out that child labor is more pervasive and more dangerous than we thought, [these] states have decided, ‘Oh, now’s a good time to weaken the child labor laws,’” Reid Maki, the director of child labor issues and coordinator at the Child Labor Coalition, told the Florida Phoenix. “So that’s appalling. That’s really just mind-boggling.”

Since 2015, DOL data shows that investigators have worked on child labor cases that involved 900 children in the state of Florida, resulting in $900,000 in fines. In recent years, investigators found that a landscape company in the state allowed a 13-year-old to operate a forklift, despite it being against state law. In another case, a 15-year-old roofer suffered brain and spine injuries after falling off a townhouse in 2022.

“At a time when serious child labor violations are on the rise in hazardous meatpacking and manufacturing jobs, several state legislatures are weakening — or threatening to weaken — child labor protections,” a report by the Economic Policy Institute states. “The trend reflects a coordinated multi-industry push to expand employer access to low-wage labor and weaken state child labor laws in ways that contradict federal protections, in pursuit of longer-term industry-backed goals to rewrite federal child labor laws and other worker protections for the whole country.”

LGBTQ advocates have pointed out that states gutting child labor laws are also passing anti-LGBTQ laws under the guise of “protecting children.” Of the states that have introduced or passed laws rolling back child labor, at least half of them have also restricted gender-affirming care for transgender minors.

“In DeSantis’ Florida, teens can work hazardous jobs full time but it’s illegal to teach them that LGBTQ people exist,” transgender activist Alejandra Caraballo said on social media. “It’s not about protecting children…They see children as expendable and exploitable cheap labor for capital.”

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