The Republicans all-out attack on labor unions, the unemployed, and the working poor in general has gotten plenty of press, as it should.
What hasn't gotten as much attention is the Republican push to bring child labor back in a limited form.
According to Lafer’s report, “The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011-2012,” within those two years 15 states passed new restrictions on union collective bargaining or paycheck deductions; 16 passed new restrictions on unemployment benefits; four passed new restrictions on state minimum wage laws; and four reduced limitations on child labor. The child labor changes range from a Wisconsin law ending limits on 16- and 17-year-olds’ work hours to an Idaho law letting 12-year-olds be hired for manual labor at their school for 10 hours a week. Lafer notes that a Idaho school district spokesperson said that would both cut down on labor costs and teach kids “you have to be on time” and “do what you’re asked …”The Tea Party Governor from Maine is also in the process of pushing for weaker child labor laws, which would make them the fifth country to weaken their child labor laws. Maine's child labor laws date back to 1847.
“This is part of a coordinated effort by conservatives across the country to use the economic crisis to shred critical worker protections.”
- Anne Thompson, policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project
The good news is that this push is only happening at the state level. Federal standards still remain, and state laws can't undermine it.
State child labor laws came long before the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act.
What we are witnessing is the revenge of Newt Gingrich.
Newt Gingrich got a lot of attention—mostly negative—late last year when he told an audience at Harvard University that he would do away with “truly stupid” child labor laws that prevent kids in poor neighborhoods from being put to work. He then one-upped himself by suggesting during the Dec. 10 GOP debate in Iowa that poor kids could learn the value of a hard day’s work by taking the jobs of union janitors in New York public schools.It's interesting how some of those that oppose raising the minimum wage because it might lure high school students into the full-time work force, also support weakening child labor laws.
The nationwide attack on labor goes far beyond just child labor laws.
The report also tallies a number of business-backed bills that were pushed in the same period but fell short of becoming law, including 17 “right to work” bills (along with the ones that passed in Michigan and Indiana); a Montana bill excluding tips from workers’ compensation calculations; an Oklahoma bill requiring those receiving unemployment to do 20 hours of weekly unpaid community service; and a Florida bill prohibiting municipalities from passing any rules to address “wage theft” – companies’ failure to pay employees’ their legally owed wages.Considering the size and extent of a list like this, why isn't the Democratic Party using the term "War on Workers"?
About four months ago I wrote a piece called The Return of the 19th Century. It listed eight trends that society had evolved past during the 20th Century, but are returning now.
None of those trends I listed were child labor. I never thought of looking for it because I never considered that we would ever go down that road again.