A bill proposed in the Iowa state legislature would drastically alter the state’s regulations regarding the employment of young teens. The bill, titled senate file 167, would allow teenagers to work longer hours, work in more hazardous industries, and shield employers from liability in the event of the injury or death of their young workers. The bill was introduced on the Iowa senate floor on January 30th by Republican Senator Jason Schultz, who sits on the commerce committee and the labor and business committee.
Under Iowa law, children under 18 are prohibited from working in several hazardous fields, such as meatpacking and mining. However, this new bill would allow the Iowa Workforce Development Department and Department of Education to make special exemptions to these prohibitions under the guise of “work-based learning” or a “school-related program”. Among the jobs newly open to 14 year olds are working in industrial laundries and meat coolers as well as jobs previously restricted to 15 years old and above such as retail, kitchen work, and cleaning. 15 year olds may now unload trucks and perform assembly work. In addition, the director of the Workforce Development Department or the Department of Education may issue a special waiver that “grants exemption from any provision”, including in the fields that minors are forbidden to participate in under current law.
Permissible working hours for all children have been expanded to six hours during the school year. Quitting time has been moved from 7 pm to 9pm when school is in session and to 11pm in the summer. 17 year olds would have no hours restrictions at all.
In a section of the bill entitled “employer liability in work-based learning”, teenage employees are robbed of their ability to file workman’s comp claims in the event of injury even if the employer was found to be negligent. What’s more, the bill would shield employers from all liability for charges of negligence up to what the justice system refers to as “gross negligence”, a notoriously nebulous term that is very difficult to prove in court. With no workman’s compensation in the event of injury and no recourse through the justice system, sickened or maimed children as young as 14 would be left largely on their own.
This bill represents a return to the worst sort of workplace barbarity that we as a society had rightly left behind at the dawn of the 20th century. Children denied a childhood in favor of more profit extraction for capitalist greed. Instead of progressing towards greater enlightenment and liberty, we are instead moving backwards into the worst excesses and abuses of the industrial age. This bill will also hit the children of immigrants and the working poor the hardest, as they are the ones most in need of the paltry salary that their minor children can provide. Instead of sacrificing even a penny of their profits to pay adult workers a fair wage, employers would rather raid the schoolhouses for cheap labor and steal away their occupants’ all-too-short opportunity to be kids. And their lapdogs and toadies in the Iowa statehouse stand ready to help them do it.