This story originally appeared in Common Dreams on May 5, 2023. It is shared here under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.
Along with passing forced pregnancy laws and measures to punish parents for supporting their transgender children, the Republican Party is pushing numerous bills to loosen child labor regulations—and on Thursday Gov. Kim Reynolds confirmed she plans to make Iowa the second GOP-controlled state to enact such a proposal this year.
The Republican said she plans to sign Senate File 542, which removes so-called “unnecessary restrictions” that have kept minors from working in hazardous workplaces and from working long hours during the school year.
The bill was given final approval by the state Senate on Wednesday, with just two Republicans joining Democrats in voting against it, defying lobbying campaigns by right-wing groups including Americans for Prosperity and restaurant and construction industry groups.
Under the legislation, businesses will be permitted to employ children as young as 14 for work including roofing, construction, and demolition as long as they are participating in a “work-based learning program” through the state. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds will be allowed to serve alcohol, and teenagers older than 13 will be permitted to work up to six hours a day until as late as 9:00 pm during the school year and until 11:00 pm in the summer. Currently teenagers can only work four hours per day.
Reynolds said the bill is aimed at developing a “strong work ethic” in children and allowing them “to work to get ahead in life or save money for college.” Supporters have heralded the legislation as a solution to what they say are “labor shortages”—which labor unions and workers’ rights advocates have long said could be solved with wages that keep up with inflation and fair working conditions.
Republicans and the industry groups that back them “will do literally anything—even endangering the lives of children (!)—to keep wages low for restaurant workers,” said economic justice group Patriotic Millionaires last month as the bill moved through the Iowa Legislature.
Reynolds announced her intention to sign the bill days after hundreds of children as young as 10 were found to be working at McDonald’s locations across Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, and Indiana.
If the bill is signed, Iowa will become the second state this year to eliminate labor protections for children. Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a law in March rolling back age verification requirements for workers under 16.
Bills proposed in Minnesota would lift restrictions on hazardous work for teenagers, as Senate File 542 does in Iowa, and extend the hours when children can work. Extended hours bills have also been proposed in Missouri, Iowa, and South Dakota this year, and were passed last year in New Hampshire and New Jersey—where a Democratic governor signed the legislation into law.
“Even if this isn’t happening in your state, it is coming to your state soon. I promise you,” Charlie Wishman, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, told The Real News Network in March.
Debbie Berkowitz, a former policy advisar at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, told The Washington Post the Iowa proposal is “the most anti-child, anti-family bill that I’ve seen.”
“This law is an ideological solution when there is no problem,” she said, adding on social media that if Reynolds wants teenagers to be able to earn money, “there are plenty of jobs kids can do now” without allowing companies to employ them on roofing and construction projects.
As the state legislative session ended Thursday, the Iowa Senate Democrats tweeted that the child labor bill was just part of a Republican agenda this year that will harm the state’s children in multiple ways.
“This session will go down in history as one of the most divisive and cruel ever seen in Iowa,” said the Democrats.