Working in the Silence

July 21, 2023

Some things happen with a big BOOM!!! Like Roe -v- Wade being overturned. Thus, once again giving government the right to legislate women’s bodies. Denying a basic health care need. For some women its not so basic. For some it is literally their life or death.

Some things happen so quietly that we don’t even realize that it is happening until it is already done. Some things happen without much discussion or ceremony. Like the rolling back of child labor laws.

Until the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) was passed by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration in 1938, there were no laws protecting children from working excessively long hours in dangerous jobs for very little to no pay. FSLA establishes and regulates standards around such things as minimum wage, overtime, record keeping, and hours worked. It also establishes laws pertaining to child labor. FSLA says that for children in non-agricultural jobs (farming), children between the ages of 14 and 16 may be employed in allowed occupations during limited hours. These non-dangerous jobs, like bussing tables or bagging groceries.  

Children between the ages of 16 and 17 may be employed for unlimited hours in non-hazardous occupations. So no putting 17 year olds to work on a jackhammer, for instance, or working with dangerous chemicals. There are exceptions that include working for parents, paper routes and child actors. You can find out more about FSLA and child labor law here. These laws exist for one simple reason: our children deserve to be protected from anyone or any situation that may take advantage of them.

Federal labor laws set guidelines and precedent, but each state has their own individual laws as well. Each state has the right to choose how they will or will not enact the laws. This is why laws differ from state to state. One of the clearest examples is the legalization of marijuana. Federally it is illegal, however there are 23 states and D. C.  that have legalized growing, selling, and using marijuana.

 Currently there are 14 states that have either rolled back or are attempting to roll back child labor laws. States such as New Jersey and New Hampshire, Ohio, Arkansas, Nebraska, and others. Department of Labor (DOL) reports the number of child labor law violations in 2022 fiscal year (FY2022) rose 37% over FY2021 and a staggering 283% over FY2015. The number of violations for minors working in hazardous occupations jumped 26% over FY2021 and 94% over FY2015.

There are some laws that should not be rolled back. Especially the laws that protect the environment, animals and/or any other innocent and defenseless such as our old and our children from being harmed. The rolling back is happening so quietly that I bet many of us didn’t even know it was happening. Some of the rollbacks seem harmless at first glance. For example, HB1410 in Arkansas eliminated the need for age verification and parent or guardian permissions to work. A person might think, “what does it matter if a kid doesn’t ask his parent’s permission to work?” Here is why it matters. In order to protect our children we need to know what they are doing, and this literally opens the door to children at any age being put to work, let alone being put to work in dangerous and unsafe conditions and the parent can have no idea that this is happening.

We haven’t even talked about the thousands of unaccompanied children that have migrated to the United States. In the past 2 years alone over 250,000 children who are unaccompanied by an adult have come into the U.S., mostly from Central America. They have no one to watch out for them and no one to fight for them. Children as young as 12 and 13 are working in extremely hazardous conditions in factories, construction and slaughterhouses. They are working these jobs full-time, and many are going to school as well. This is a crisis, and it is shameful that children are being exploited. The New York Times wrote an amazing article about the exploitation of these children. You can read the article here.  

We need to educate about what is happening. We need to be aware of what the dangers are, we need to know the history. The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics has a great article on the history of child labor.  All you have to do is google “child labor laws” and there is so much information. A good place to start is by clicking any one of the links in this article.

Rochelle Hazard, Director of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access