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Child Labor: Helping Dad or Taking Jobs From Adults?

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Upon reading this, you might think it’s nice that a son is helping his father doing his construction labor over the summer. But then you realize that this sort of thing is the root of how child labor get established and that it takes work away from law-abiding contractors.

A day after a 13-year-old boy was found doing electrical work at a school construction site, more than a dozen union members staged a protest outside the building.

“We’re asking for a level playing field,” said Ted Duarte, a senior organizer for the New England Regional Council of Carpenters. “We’re asking for legitimate contractors, union or not union, to have a real shot at getting real work and not having to compete against people who are exploiting children.”

The state Department of Labor’s Wage and Workplace Standards Division sent inspectors to the New School, an extension of Rogers Magnet Elementary, Thursday after learning of the violation. Authorities said they found the juvenile helping his father, an electrician working for D.F. McDermott, a contractor out of Ansonia.

Police removed the boy and his father from the construction area, but no one was arrested.

And the UBC should be protesting against this. Even if you don’t want to blame the father, you should blame the school.

There simply is no place for child labor in this country. And 13 year olds should definitely not be working on construction sites as electricians.

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  • Gregor Sansa

    On the other hand, I doubt that kid is left with a good feeling towards unions.

    • To say the least, I don’t think this should be a concern.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      probably didn’t have one to begin with

    • TroubleMaker13

      IDK, if he’s like most 13 year olds, he’s probably more pissed at his dad for making him work in the first place.

  • so-in-so

    Even leaving the union aside for moment, you generally have to be licensed to work as an electrician. Even just a gofer needs to be an apprentice.

    Plus, this is always the GOP line. Gingrich himself spouted it some years back – how can you deprive a teenager who wants to help his family of the right to work?

    • Even leaving the union aside for moment, you generally have to be licensed to work as an electrician.

      So we can look forward to Yglesias entering the discussion real soon now?

      • Dilan Esper

        That’s highly unfair to Yglesias. To paraphrase Obama, Yglesias isn’t against all occupational licensing. He’s against dumb occupational licensing.

        There’s plenty of safety related occupational licensing that is just fine. There’s also plenty of occupational licensing that is clear protectionism for incumbents. Yglesias has listed examples of this and you are probably tired of hearing them– African American hair braiding shops that have to do extensive training to get cosmetology licenses in order to use chemicals safely which they do not use at all in their business, taxi licensing that goes beyond insurance and driver competence requirements to artificially limit the number of medallions, dentistry regulations that attempt to prevent perfectly competent dental assistants from cleaning your teeth without a DDS taking a cut of the fees, etc.

        I don’t know specifically how Yglesias feels about regulations of electricians, but as a general matter, his critique of occupational licensing is appropriately limited and totally valid.

        • TribalistMeathead

          Given that I don’t work in hair braiding, transportation, or dentistry, I’m not prepared to call any of those “dumb.”

          And I’m going to guess Yglesias doesn’t have extensive experience in those fields, either.

          • so-in-so

            That’s actually pretty unresponsive. Unless you take the tack that only the industry experts in any field should have a say in regulating it, which always works out so well.

            • So much for a comment that I intended as no more than a light-hearted throwaway snarkino. Oh, well.

              • so-in-so

                “No snark goes unpunished”

        • Brien Jackson

          IIRC, Yglesias’ basic rule is that licensing is fine in instances where regulations, lawsuits, and market forces won’t provide a sufficient check against potential problems. I.e., if incompetence can cause death or significant injury, requiring licenses that (theoretically) prove competence ex ante is fine.

    • rjayp

      Especially on public works projects, which I assume this was.

    • los

      Gingrich himself spouted it some years back – how can you deprive a teenager who wants to help his family of the right to work?
      the right to die for less
      /s?

    • Matt McIrvin

      There’s an electrician’s bumper sticker that says WIRING IS NOT A HOBBY. I often think of it when contemplating what the previous owner left us when we bought our house.

  • JonH

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the kid was helping his dad run wire through conduit, etc. Not particularly dangerous, I don’t think. And the sort of thing where a helper would be useful.

    Apart from that, I agree.

    • tsam

      ALL construction work has a level of danger to it that makes the idea of letting a 13 year old kid do it completely nuts.

      The general should be paying a MASSIVE fine, as well as the electrical contractor.

      • JonH

        The construction is almost finished, they’re pretty much just finishing the interior. It isn’t exposed steel beams and gaping holes in the floors..

        Perhaps they were running ethernet, or figuring out which cables at the router end correspond to which room.

        A kid shouldn’t have been there, but let’s keep things in perspective.

        • lige

          I’m wondering if he was running the lines through a crawlspace or the attic. Not the most dangerous thing in the world but still not really safe. I assume the contractors insurance company wouldn’t be real cool with the situation either.

          • JonH

            Possible, but I kind of envision it more as the dad up in the crawlspace or whatever doing the hard work, and the kid at the outlet watching for the cable or pulling on the end of the snake.

            But, you know, could be anything.

            • Happy Jack

              It doesn’t matter who is where on this job. What matters in the state of Connecticut is if the “apprentice” is registered.

        • tsam

          Since my career involves construction, and I’ve spent hundreds of hours on jobsites at all phases, I’d say I have a decent perspective of what is going on at that site.

      • rjayp

        Yes. And demonstrates absolutely poor business judgment to boot. If there had been any kind of accident on the site, even if kid was not involved, the GC’s insurance carrier would rightly tell them to take a hike for violating the policy leaving them on the hook for any claims and/or settlements.

      • SamChevre

        I wouldn’t say “all construction is dangerous”–the article says they were installing digital whiteboards. I’ve certainly had my under-10 kids help me with putting up whiteboards, or replacing outlet covers after painting–OK, you hold the screwdriver and give it to me when I ask, you hold the screws, you stay here behind this chair where you are out of the way.

        Now, demolishing a decrepit warehouse, or swinging trusses, back when I worked in construction? I wouldn’t have anyone who didn’t know what they were doing anywhere nearby.

        • LWA

          My job involves observing construction sites, and yes, ALL construction work ANYWHERE on a site is dangerous.

          Falls, live electrical wires, sharp protruding objects- there are a thousand ways to get hurt really badly on a jobsite.

          ETA: Jesus, hasn’t anyone ever seen Tooltime?

          • mikeSchilling

            The kid got to meet a young Pamela Anderson? That’s horrible — it’l ruin real girls for him for years,

    • human

      I work as an electrician. Actually, at work today, my foreman was telling stories about two occasions when he cut himself helping someone run wire through conduit, and once had to go to the hospital.

      Your comment is so off-base it’s flabbergasting.

      Construction is DANGEROUS. You have to be aware at all times and you have to have a thorough understanding of hazards and you have to think through what you are doing and not act impulsively. Through no fault of their own 13 year olds and other children tend to suck at that kind of thing.

      Ugh, I can’t believe I’m having to explain why having kids on a construction site is a BAD FUCKING IDEA and INCREDIBLY UNSAFE.

  • TroubleMaker13

    So I get that children should not be doing skilled, professional, and potentially dangerous work like electrical, whether or not they’re skirting a union (but double-so if they are), or even arm’s-length wage labor in general.

    But I have a hard time seeing, say, my local corner-store owner’s young son stocking shelves as some kind of thin edge of an anti-labor wedge. Do you mean to also refer to that kind of thing?

    • rjayp

      I believe Loomis has addressed this type of “help” wrt agricultural labor.

      • Ronan

        A lot of the time it is “help.” Or spending time with your parents. Or understanding the family trade. Then other times it’s exploitation. There are different seasons of this stuff, and the divisions aren’t always clear.

        • The Dark God of Time

          Exploitation begins at home.

          “Whenever you exploit someone, it never hurts to thank them. (That way, it’s easier to exploit them the next time.)”

    • Ronan

      Yes, precisely. It’s unlikely to be “undercutting Labour” in any meaningful way. As so so says below, perhaps a father with limited childcare options that day. Is a 13 year old a threat to the livelihood of a qualified electrician ? Obviously not. Is he taking a job as dogsbody from someone else? Perhaps. But we need more evidence than one day helping his father, particularly before you picket the man.

      • Turangalila

        I certainly can’t tell much from the link about the details of the situation; however I doubt reaction would have been as strong, both from the union and the regulators, if this was just a one-day/can’t get a sitter/kid fetching coffee situation. From the pics they got a couple of dozen protestors, along with props, to the site, in one day. For a trade union that’s saying something, and makes me think this contractor and/or this city were on their radar previously.

        • SamChevre

          My guess is that “this contractor and/or this city” were on their radar, since a non-union contractor was doing a prevailing-wage job. The 13-year-old was (I’m guessing) a violation that would get news attention.

    • MikeJake

      Kids shouldn’t be in the workplace, their place is on the Wheel of Pain.

    • btfjd

      The Fair Labor Standards Act contains the basic federal child labor provisions, which are further elaborated in regulations promulgated by the Dept. of Labor. Employment of minors 16 – 17 in 17 designated “Hazardous Occupations” is prohibited, but they can work any other jobs or hours/times. Minors 14 – 15 can work, but with even more restrictions on the jobs they can do, and with pretty significant restriction on the hours and times they can work. Employment of minors under 14 is completely prohibited. Only exception is that the sole owner of a business–i.e., sole proprietor, married couple owning 100% of stock in a business, etc.–can hire his/her own child to work in non-hazardous jobs.

      Many states have their own CL rules, often stricter than the feds.

      So you can dispute the underlying policy if you want, but unless the father was the sole owner of the electrical sub contractor, this employment was illegal.

  • so-in-so

    I can maybe feel bad if the electrician had no place to leave the child after school ended.

  • lige

    Was the kid getting paid? It’s unclear from the article.

    • Warren Terra

      If he was getting paid an illegally low wage, that’s a crime. If he was getting paid a legal but below market wage, that’s exploitation. If he was getting paid a full wage, that’s nepotism.

      How would his getting paid improve the situation?

      • mikeSchilling

        He could buy candy.

  • eh

    Disappointed in the lack of Rhee jokes so far.

    • Warren Terra

      I blame her gender (and I was going to say level of education, but apparently she’s not a PhD?). If she was Mister Rhee, the jokes would be easy.

      • Honoré De Ballsack

        If she was Mister Rhee, the jokes would be easy.

        They’re still pretty easy- e.g., “causing untold pain and Ms. Rhee.”

        • ExpatChad

          AAAAAARGH!!!

  • I think there are multiple levels to this. It is one thing to have your child helping out, and another to have someone else’s child (or children) helping you out. It is one thing if he was just doing this to show the ropes, and another if this was a full time job. It’s one thing if this is just your child, and another if you have several children working for you as part of your business model. Etc.

  • emjb

    My dad was a master electrician and member of the local IBEW, and yeah, he’d have some things to say about this. His arms were covered by scars from electrical arcs and other accidents during his career; electrical work on a job site is no place for an untrained full-grown adult, much less a child.

    • Turangalila

      My dad and much of my extended family are IBEW. I don’t think it’s unheard of for journeymen to occasionally bring their kids to work and let them get coffee and fetch tools – depending on the site and the stage of construction, as others have noted. It certainly wasn’t unheard of in the 70’s & 80’s when I was a kid (though I only really tagged along when Dad was helping wire the local church fair); even less so when my dad was tagging along with his dad (IIRC Dad got his apprentice union card at 15 or 16). I expect standards are stricter these days.

      It’s impossible to tell from the article the specific details of this situation, but what seems clear is that this is a nonunion contractor working at a school, in Connecticut, and that actually pisses me off.

      • SamChevre

        This. It’s basically the trades’ version of “bring your daughter/child to work day”.

        • los

          Too much deadline pressure at work. Get the kid in on home projects.

      • emjb

        Dad never took any of us to a jobsite (granted, they tended to be huge things like airports) at least not while he was working. Even when he and my brother were building houses, he was reluctant to let anyone but him or another electrician handle electrical tasks.

        I thought of him when we had to get an electrician out to our last house to fix the crappy DIY electrical job the previous owner had done that had started sending a pretty strong shock through the doorknob of the added-on room.

        • Turangalila

          To be clear, I never did anything that could actually be called “electrical work” when following my dad around as a kid. Real (i.e. Union) electricians as a rule have a very healthy respect for the damage electricity can do.

          Actually to this day I can’t so much as install a light switch, to my shame; but then, Dad was the default family electrician until he couldn’t climb a ladder anymore…

          • Real (i.e. Union) electricians as a rule have a very healthy respect for the damage electricity can do.

            Yeah. As I’ve heard said, “Careless plumbers get wet. Careless electricians get dead.”

            Warning: does not apply to gas plumbers.

            • mikeSchilling

              Careless presidents get re-elected.

        • los

          sending a pretty strong shock through the doorknob of the added-on room
          I you had any Creflo Trump instincts, you would have distributed flyers under windshields at the Creation Ark Museum… claiming there was a shadow on your wall that looked like a saint, smiting Allah.
          The doorknob tingle is a “touch” — extra proof of the miracle or sign from god. Triple the entry “donation”.

          but, how does a person accidentally wire an interior knob..?
          Probably done by somebody under the influence of fluoridated chemtrails.

        • Matt McIrvin

          One of the things I took away from doing physics laboratory courses in school was that, while radioactivity and electricity were both dangerous things that could be managed with proper care, the only reason people are usually less frightened of electricity is excessive familiarity.

      • rjayp

        It certainly wasn’t unheard of in the 70’s & 80’s…

        Haha. When I worked construction in the 70’s it was common for the site super to buy a case of beer to hand out with the checks on Friday afternoon.

        • Origami Isopod

          Of course, if a cop saw you driving drunk, he’d just tell you to go home and sleep it off.

      • los

        Probably like the good old days of agricultural accidents involving juveniles. Some were luckier than others…

    • sharculese

      This.

      I once almost killed a friend of mine because I forgot she needed to do work on the other end of a cable and plugged it into the circuit. And I was a nominal adult who knew what I was doing. Sending a kid in there is just asking for trouble.

  • gmoot

    Instead of hiring a gardener to pull weeds, I’ve hired my 13-year old. You may call it exploiting child labor. I call it getting his a** off the couch for something other than Pokemon Go.

    From a labor-exploitation and inequality-generating perspective, I’m a lot less bothered by the situation in the OP than I am with unpaid internships that only wealthy high school and college kids can afford to take.

    (The safety concerns of a kid on a job site are a different kettle o’ fish.)

    • los

      1. Mulch. (Fewer “weeds”. Almost always 2 ft sapling or shrubling pull easily. Junky 4 or 5 foot pull out, too.) However, you have to block neighbors weeds from seeding on top of your mulch.

      2. When you’re a kid, you sometimes (and sometimes incorrectly) sense that you’ve been pointlessly sentenced to a time-waster.
      I was a relatively energetic kid, but in one particular type “chore”. I remember trying to not fall asleep even while walking or standing. My mind felt like it was “scraping” on something invisible. (Imagine the feeling by listening to Brittney Spears, Huey Lewis and the News, or REO Speedwagon Best B-sides for 3 hours. Read all 13 of Kurt Schlictler’s Best Essays again and again for 3 hours.)

      3. Instead, change oil and filter with your kid. Check and top tire pressure.

      because a mind is a terrible thing to waste with extreme prejudice.

      • mikeSchilling

        Instead, change oil and filter with your kid.

        “Open wide, Johnny — here comes the oil!”

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