Introducing ‘Youth Workers,’ Republicans’ New Term to Justify Rolling Back Child Labor Laws

Rep. Linda Chaney’s (R) bill would also allow teens to work in hazardous jobs and deny them basic workplace sexual harassment protections. Sick.

Politics
Introducing ‘Youth Workers,’ Republicans’ New Term to Justify Rolling Back Child Labor Laws
Rep. Linda Chaney (R) advocating for her bill to loosen child labor laws while referring to children as “youth workers.” Screenshot:The Florida Channel

Everything is going great in the state of Florida: On Wednesday afternoon, Republicans in the state House Regulatory Reform & Economic Development Subcommittee advanced Rep. Linda Chaney’s (R) bill, HB 49, to scale back decades-old child labor laws in the state. Chaney insisted that we should recognize children as “youth workers”—a fairly dystopian way to refer to children—and, to add insult to injury, her bill would deny said “youth workers” basic workplace sexual harassment protections. “These are not children. These are 16 and 17-year-olds,” Cheney said at the subcommittee hearing. “These are youth workers.” When you’re justifying your bill on workplace protections for children by saying “these are not children,” I think that speaks for itself!

Current state law prohibits 16 and 17-year-olds from working for more than eight hours per day on school nights and 30 hours per week while school is in session. Chaney’s bill would lift these restrictions, eliminate teens’ right to half-hour meal breaks amid four-hour shifts, and also allow teens to work in jobs deemed hazardous by the state. Worse yet, when House Democrats tried to add an amendment to require employers of 16 and 17-year-olds to keep records of incidents of sexual harassment and also provide this record to the workers’ parents, House Republicans voted it down, advancing HB 49 without this amendment. Rep. Angela Nixon (D) called the amendment the “key to [maintaining] the safety of our children” while Rep. Anna V. Eskamani (D) reminded the House that “some places of employment that have the highest rates of sexual assault are the service industry,” which is where many minors would be working.

House Republicans apparently disagreed.

Chaney proclaimed that her bill is all about ~liberating~ the youth: “This bill gets government out of their way to choose the path that is best for them,” she said. Of course, the Florida PTA, which opposes HB 49, doesn’t seem to agree, per Florida Politics. Some opponents have also argued Chaney’s bill is a cynical ploy to fill a void in immigrant labor after the state enacted stricter laws around employing undocumented workers in 2022. David Metellus, the director of policy and politics at the Florida Immigrant Coalition, expressed this suspicion to the Tampa Bay Times: “We think it’s not going to be benefiting the kids, it’s only going to be benefiting the corporations,” he said. “It’s bailing out the Legislature for bad policy as well.”

Chaney argued that adopting HB 49 would align Florida with 24 other states and the federal government, as she argued her bill aligns with federal child labor law. (Of course, while federal law does allow 16 and 17-year-olds to be employed for unlimited hours, this doesn’t apply to those declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor.) Just earlier this year, Iowa Republicans voted at 4 a.m. to approve a bill loosening child labor restrictions, which would allow minors to serve alcohol, work on meat-processing lines, operate heavy machinery, and work night shifts. In March, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) signed a bill to allow 14 and 15-year-olds to receive certificates permitting them to work.

The Florida Republican Party platform increasingly seems to be one of terrorizing children, whether through policing queer kids in schools or scaling back standard labor protections. “There’s going to be so much time for them to be an adult,” Rep. Susan Valdés (D) said of her opposition to the bill. “Let kids be children.”

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