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Lawmakers shouldn’t loosen Iowa’s child labor laws
Iowa has a stubborn, worsening labor shortage. Burt we don’t believe a bill advancing in the Iowa Legislature loosening child labor laws is a smart or prudent way to address it.
Under the bill, 14-year-old Iowans would be allowed to work in industrial freezers and meat lockers, unloading vehicles and in laundry facilities. Fifteen-year-olds could work in light manufacturing and could work up to six hours daily. Sixteen-year-olds could work as bartenders with parents’ permission.
But find two other provisions of the bill are the most troubling. One would permit businesses that conduct on-the-job training programs to seek state waivers allowing 14-17-year-olds to work in jobs related to manufacturing, mining, construction and processing.
Also, businesses that employ kids in work-based training would be protected from liability if a young worker becomes ill or is injured on the job, even if the harm is caused by a business’ negligence.
“We have a heartbeat shortage in the state of Iowa. We have to step back and take a look at the issue, said Sen. Adrian Dickey, R-Packwood, who argued the bill reduces “burdensome regulations.”
What Dickey sees as a burden is actually result of decades of work aimed at keeping young workers safe while shielding them from economic exploitation. And that work was driven forward by the nation’s tragic history of pushing kids into dangerous jobs at low pay levels.
It’s notable that the Republican backed bill permitting young workers to do more difficult and dangerous jobs would not raise the state’s $7.25 per hour minimum wage, which has remained stagnant since lawmakers voted to raise it nearly 16 years ago.
It’s also telling that lawmakers are doing little or nothing to make these jobs more attractive to adults, such as mandating sick leave or paid family leave. It’s as if we’ve learned nothing from the pandemic, when “essential workers” found out employers didn’t see them as essential enough to deserve benefits that protected their lives and livelihoods.
Instead, we’re looking to our children to fill the workforce gap. And, as usual with this GOP-controlled Legislature, the biggest beneficiaries will be businesses that can get their labor on the cheap. It’s tough to tell which is more disappointing, the fact this bills is receiving serious consideration or the lack of vision displayed by lawmakers who seem to have no real solutions to solve our workforce shortage.
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