January 21, 2022
Dear Governor Evers:
The Child Labor Coalition (CLC) based in Washington, D.C., represents 38 groups who work to reduce child labor and the dangers of child work in the U.S. and abroad. We write with concern about legislation, SB 332, which just passed the Wisconsin Assembly yesterday. The legislation would weaken current Wisconsin child labor protections by lengthening the hours 14- and 15-year-old workers would be allowed to work—both on schools days and on non-school days.
The CLC fears that lengthening the hours of work will increase student fatigue and increase the likelihood of students dropping out. Extending school hours makes it harder for kids to perform school work, participate in after-school activities, do homework, and get a good night’s sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than one quarter of high school students fall asleep in class now.
Driving to and from the job is one of the most common ways teen workers are injured or killed. Even if teen workers are being driven by older drivers, fellow co-workers, or parents after 11:00, their chances of dying in a car accident escalate with late hours of work. Drunk driving fatal accidents are four time more likely at night—the later the hour, the more likely the accident is to involve a drunk driver.
Currently, Wisconsin follows federal law and allows children to work from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm when school is in session (on days preceding school) and 7:00 am to 9:00 pm when school is out of session. The proposed new law would allow minors to work until 9:30 on school nights and to begin work at 6:00 am, lengthening the work day for teen workers by 3 hours and 30 minutes. On non-school nights, the new law would allow minor workers to work between 6:00 am and 11:00 pm.
According to Business Insider, “The bill would keep in place federal rules limiting teens to three hours of work on a school day, eight hours on non-school days, and six days of work a week.”
Each year, 158,000 teens suffer work-related injuries—70,000 are hurt badly enough to have to go to the hospital. By increasing worker fatigue, we increase the likelihood of injury. Rahm Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago and a former member of Congress, is a victim of a teen accident. While working in an Arby’s he suffered a cut from a meat slicer. The cut led to a severe infection and gangrene and part of the finger had to be amputated.
In 2006, health researchers Kristina M. Zierold, Ph.D., assistant professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and Henry A. Anderson, M.D., chief medical officer of the Wisconsin Division of Public Health surveyed teen workers in North Carolina and found significant health risks associated with work by minors—and night work presented additional dangers. “Based on our analysis, we surmise that working later hours may involve circumstances that place teens at greater risk for severe occupational injury,” Zierold explained. Late at night, when managers have gone home, “teens may be asked to perform more prohibited or hazardous tasks than when supervisors are present.”
Teens who work at night in retail establishments are also at an elevated risk of assault. In 2010, an Illinois teenager working late in a sandwich shop was abducted, beaten, and sexually assaulted. Working till 11:00 increases the chances that teens will be working alone or closing up.
In the last 25 years, the CLC has watched the average annual death toll for teen workers drop from over 70 per year to less than half that amount. Let’s not reverse course and weaken child labor protections.
Three members of the Wisconsin legislature expressed opposition to the bill:
- “Kids should be doing their homework; being in school instead of working more hours.” Said Representative Francesca Hong in a statement to television station WORT said the bill involved the “absurdities of making youth work ‘til 11 pm.”
- “Allowing high schoolers to pile on more hours isn’t going to solve the endemic issues with workers. Wisconsin needs real solutions to help workers succeed: livable wages, affordable childcare, healthcare, transit to jobs – not empty rhetoric or lowering child labor law standards,” says State Senator Kelda Roys.
- “Looser child labor laws are not the answer to labor shortages – good pay and benefits and safer working conditions are. A child’s primary responsibility is their education. They’re better off investing in themselves and their future than working longer and later hours as a teenager.” said State Senator Chris Larson.
Governor, we urge you to veto SB 332 and preserve current child labor protections. The health and safety and educational needs of teen workers should be paramount when considering any changes to Wisconsin’s child labor laws.
Coordinator, Child Labor Coalition
Child Labor Coalition includes union members with affiliates in Wisconsin. Here is our entire member list:
ACE—Action Against Child Exploitation
American Federation of Teachers
Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs
Bank Information Center
Corporate Accountability Lab
East Coast Migrant Head Start Project
First Focus Campaign for Children
Free the Slaves
Global Campaign for Education—US
Global Fairness Initiative
Global Labor Justice — International Labor Rights Forum
Human Rights Watch
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
International Initiative to End Child Labor
International Rights Advocates
Media Voices for Children
Migrant Legal Action Program
National Association of State Directors of Migrant Education
National Consumers League
National Education Association
National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association
Solidarity Center, AFL-CIO
United Food and Commercial Workers International Union
United Methodist Church, Board of Church and Society
United Mine Workers of America
Walden Asset Management