Missouri, Maine declare ‘open season’ on young workers; NCL decries attacks on child labor protections – National Consumers League

April 1, 2011

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), the organization that helped write and enact the first child labor laws in states around the country a century ago is calling for an end to the “open season on young workers.” The League, which was formed in 1899 and co-chairs the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) in Washington DC, is crying foul in reaction to legislation in both Maine and Missouri to unravel hard-fought child labor protections.

“The Maine legislature is moving quickly to gut labor protections for youth workers and the Missouri House has just approved a new budget that would terminate ALL of the state’s investigators who look into child labor and minimum wage complaints,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director and Co-chair of the CLC. “In 2010, those investigators discovered more than $450,000 violations of child labor laws in Missouri and recovered more than $700,000 for workers from minimum and prevailing wage violations. So these investigators are extremely important for enforcing the law.”

In Missouri this February, Senate Republican Jane Cunningham introduced a bill, SB 222, that would eliminate the prohibition on employment of children under age 14.

“Labor crusader Florence Kelley would be rolling over in her grave,” said NCL’s Greenberg. “This is a new low. There are important historical reasons for the enactment of these basic protections for our young workers. And when they are enforced, these laws do the job, which is to punish those who hire underage workers or pay them a low wage or ask them to do dangerous jobs. These laws work but they must be enforced. Without the threat of investigations into violations of the law, there will be flagrant violations and young workers run the risk of suffering injury or even death on the job.”

The Missouri legislation:

  • removes the restrictions on the maxium number of hours and time of day during which a child may work;
  • repeals the requirement that a child ages 14 or 15 obtain a work certificate or work permit in order to be employed;
  • allows children under 16 to work in any capacity in a motel, resort, or hotel where sleeping accommodations are furnished; and,
  • removes the authority of the director of the Division of Labor Standards to inspect employers who employ children and to require them to keep certain records for children they employ. It also repeals the presumption that the presence of a child in a workplace is evidence of employment.

“And now comes word that the new Missouri budget has eliminated all the investigators who look into child labor and minimum wage complaints,” said Reid Maki, coordinator of the CLC and NCL’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards. “This is madness. A state must not abdicate its responsibility to protect children from abusive child labor. This is like expecting people to obey the traffic laws after you’ve announced you won’t be enforcing them.

“Missouri’s Senator Cunningham is portraying these changes as common sense and innocuous amendments to current law, but they are really a full-frontal assault on child labor protections,” said Maki.

The proposed legislation in Maine—now under consideration in the state Senate—would also extend hours for teen workers, allowing them to work 24 hours a week during the school year—instead of the current 20—and allowing them to work till 11:00 p.m. instead of the current 10:00 p.m.

“There is substantial research suggesting that 20 hours is the maximum amount a teenager can work without having negative academic and social impacts at school,” said Maki. “Many teens are already sleep-deprived and this legislation means they would also be at greater risk of late-night driving fatalities and workplace violence.”

A second law under consideration by the Maine legislature would eliminate any cap on the number of hours a 16-year-old may work on a school day. The bill, introduced by Representative David Burns (R – Whiting), would abolish minimum wage protections for high school students under 20 – limiting their income to just $5.25 per hour in the first six months.

“Americans support the bedrock principle that children should not be exploited economically. We need to ensure that our children are treated fairly and allowed to flourish in school. Their future—and our future—depends upon it,” noted Greenberg. “NCL and other organizations fought for decades to achieve the protections that exist today for young workers. We cannot and should not roll back the clock.”


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization; its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. NCL was led by anti-child labor crusader Florence Kelley, who served as Executive Secretary for 33 years. Kelley drafted and helped to enact many of the child labor laws in the United States. NCL currently co-chairs the 28-member Child Labor Coalition (www.stopchildlabor.org), which works to maintain and improve standards and protections for children working both in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.