New Child Labor Laws Expand Work Hours

[Waunakee Tribune]

Tyler Lamb
Regional Reporter

By Tyler Lamb

Regional Reporter

A provision inserted within Gov. Scott Walker’s biennium budget revised Wisconsin’s child labor laws July 1, effectively expanding the hours 16- and 17-year-olds can work.

The state’s child labor laws now mirror federal regulations, but is it a wise idea? Critics contend the change weakens labor laws and makes sure employers don’t have to pay a living wage.

Proponents challenge the measure will provide employers with the flexibility they need to stamp out the confusion between state and federal regulations.

Last month, a provision was placed into the governor’s budget bill by Joint Finance Committee co-chairs Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) without a public hearing. The measure was later approved along party lines by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Under the old rules, minors could not work more than 32 hours on partial school weeks; 26 hours during a full school week and no more than 50 hours during weeks with no classes.

The new law no longer limits either the daily or weekly hours, or the time of day minors may work. The measure also repealed a state law which prevented 16- and 17-year-olds from working more than six days a week. Teens of all ages are still banned from working during school hours.

Reid Maki, coordinator for the Washington D.C.-based Child Labor Coalition, said he finds Wisconsin’s rollback of child labor laws troubling.

“The weakening of child labor laws in Wisconsin is absolutely appalling. Research suggests that when teens work more than 20 hours a week, their grades go down, they drop out of school more often, and they have more behavioral issues,” Maki said. “By allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to work unlimited hours during the school week, Wisconsin legislators are failing Wisconsin teens… the legislators who did this should be ashamed.”

One of the arguments made by the Wisconsin Grocers Association, which backed changing the state’s labor laws, is the change would allow teens to better compete with adults in a poor job market. In Wisconsin, teen unemployment stands at 19 percent, according to the Employment Policies Institute.

“The discrepancy of state versus federal regulations made it very difficult to determine which rule you followed,” said Brandon Scholz, president of the Wisconsin Grocers Association. “Many retailers who thought they were in compliance with the law, as they read it, in fact found out later they were not in compliance. It was very challenging and very confusing.”

“There was a disincentive for retailers to hire kids,” Scholz continued. “Part of it was the confusion of which law you have to follow, how many hours worked, how many days worked. It makes it difficult and then you add on minimum wage and who else is out there looking for jobs and you ask yourself whether or not you can hire kids.”

For Maki, there is value in teen work, but there needs to be a greater focus on putting adults back to work.

“The idea that allowing teens to work unlimited hours will help teens compete with adults for jobs in tough economic times is misguided,” he said. “With extremely high unemployment rates, we should be focused on finding adults jobs so that parents can feed and support their families – not finding ways for teens to take jobs away from adults. And we should allow teens to focus on their education so that they can get good jobs and earn a decent living when they become adults.”

Hometown News Group called several employers in Dane, Columbia and Jefferson counties to inquire on how they will utilize the new law. The vast majority felt the changes would not affect how they conducted business.

In the end, Scholz said the apprehension surrounding the divisive topic hails from a general misunderstanding of the modern workplace.

“We are not going to put kids on for 18 hours a day and tell them not to got to school. It just does not go to that,” Scholz said. “I guess people who don’t understand the workplace and maybe don’t understand the diverse work force between older workers and younger workers probably would make a charge like that. It is unfounded, there is no merit to it. There is nothing that backs up that sweatshop mentality. A lot of stores offer scholarship programs to their kids who want to go to college.”

Other states change

labor laws, too

Wisconsin is not alone in the debate. Several states, including Maine and Missouri, have recently attempted to alter their child labor laws.

In Missouri, Senator Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield) unsuccessfully tried to repeal the state’s child labor laws. Cunningham’s office provided no explanation to why it attempted to eliminate restrictions on the age in which children could work as well as the amount of hours they could spend at their jobs. The bill would have also ended inspections by the state’s Division of Labor Standards.

Republican lawmakers in Maine approved a bill that boosted the number of hours a minor could work from 20 hours per week to 24. It also raised the daily limit of hours from four hours to six, while also allowing teens to work until 10:15 p.m. on school nights.

The original bill, sponsored by Sen. Debra Plowman (R-Hampden), would have rolled back all hourly restrictions on 17-year-old workers, as well as lowered the minimum wage limit for teens to $5.25 an hour.

A provision inserted within Gov. Scott Walker’s biennium budget revised Wisconsin’s child labor laws July 1, effectively expanding the hours 16- and 17-year-olds can work.

The state’s child labor laws now mirror federal regulations, but is it a wise idea? Critics contend the change weakens labor laws and makes sure employers don’t have to pay a living wage.

Proponents challenge the measure will provide employers with the flexibility they need to stamp out the confusion between state and federal regulations.

Last month, a provision was placed into the governor’s budget bill by Joint Finance Committee co-chairs Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) without a public hearing. The measure was later approved along party lines by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Under the old rules, minors could not work more than 32 hours on partial school weeks; 26 hours during a full school week and no more than 50 hours during weeks with no classes.

The new law no longer limits either the daily or weekly hours, or the time of day minors may work. The measure also repealed a state law which prevented 16- and 17-year-olds from working more than six days a week. Teens of all ages are still banned from working during school hours.

Reid Maki, coordinator for the Washington D.C.-based Child Labor Coalition, said he finds Wisconsin’s rollback of child labor laws troubling.

“The weakening of child labor laws in Wisconsin is absolutely appalling. Research suggests that when teens work more than 20 hours a week, their grades go down, they drop out of school more often, and they have more behavioral issues,” Maki said. “By allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to work unlimited hours during the school week, Wisconsin legislators are failing Wisconsin teens… the legislators who did this should be ashamed.”

One of the arguments made by the Wisconsin Grocers Association, which backed changing the state’s labor laws, is the change would allow teens to better compete with adults in a poor job market. In Wisconsin, teen unemployment stands at 19 percent, according to the Employment Policies Institute.

“The discrepancy of state versus federal regulations made it very difficult to determine which rule you followed,” said Brandon Scholz, president of the Wisconsin Grocers Association. “Many retailers who thought they were in compliance with the law, as they read it, in fact found out later they were not in compliance. It was very challenging and very confusing.”

“There was a disincentive for retailers to hire kids,” Scholz continued. “Part of it was the confusion of which law you have to follow, how many hours worked, how many days worked. It makes it difficult and then you add on minimum wage and who else is out there looking for jobs and you ask yourself whether or not you can hire kids.”

For Maki, there is value in teen work, but there needs to be a greater focus on putting adults back to work.

“The idea that allowing teens to work unlimited hours will help teens compete with adults for jobs in tough economic times is misguided,” he said. “With extremely high unemployment rates, we should be focused on finding adults jobs so that parents can feed and support their families – not finding ways for teens to take jobs away from adults. And we should allow teens to focus on their education so that they can get good jobs and earn a decent living when they become adults.”

Hometown News Group called several employers in Dane, Columbia and Jefferson counties to inquire on how they will utilize the new law. The vast majority felt the changes would not affect how they conducted business.

In the end, Scholz said the apprehension surrounding the divisive topic hails from a general misunderstanding of the modern workplace.

“We are not going to put kids on for 18 hours a day and tell them not to got to school. It just does not go to that,” Scholz said. “I guess people who don’t understand the workplace and maybe don’t understand the diverse work force between older workers and younger workers probably would make a charge like that. It is unfounded, there is no merit to it. There is nothing that backs up that sweatshop mentality. A lot of stores offer scholarship programs to their kids who want to go to college.”

Other states change

labor laws, too

Wisconsin is not alone in the debate. Several states, including Maine and Missouri, have recently attempted to alter their child labor laws.

In Missouri, Senator Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield) unsuccessfully tried to repeal the state’s child labor laws. Cunningham’s office provided no explanation to why it attempted to eliminate restrictions on the age in which children could work as well as the amount of hours they could spend at their jobs. The bill would have also ended inspections by the state’s Division of Labor Standards.

Republican lawmakers in Maine approved a bill that boosted the number of hours a minor could work from 20 hours per week to 24. It also raised the daily limit of hours from four hours to six, while also allowing teens to work until 10:15 p.m. on school nights.

The original bill, sponsored by Sen. Debra Plowman (R-Hampden), would have rolled back all hourly restrictions on 17-year-old workers, as well as lowered the minimum wage limit for teens to $5.25 an hour.

 

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