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Justifying Child Labor


Great arguments from Republicans here on justifying its love affair with child labor.

The reasons offered to justify these initiatives often emphasize child welfare. In Ohio, where Republican legislators are also proposing weaker laws, a spokesman for the Ohio Restaurant Association testified that extending work hours for minors would cut down on their screen time. (The lawmakers offered a concurrent resolution urging Congress to lower federal child-labor standards to conform with Ohio’s proposed rules.) Arkansas’s Republican governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, recently signed a law ending a requirement that fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds obtain a parent’s consent and a state permit before starting work. Linking the bill, strangely, to parental rights, the governor’s office called the permit “an arbitrary burden on parents.”

“It was a one-page form,” Nina Mast, the other co-author of the E.P.I. report, said. “It contained basic information and informed parents of a child’s rights. Removing it eliminates a paper trail, makes enforcement and monitoring much more difficult. It opens the door to exploitation.” Sherer said that a lobbying template being used in state legislatures to gut child-labor laws had been provided by conservative groups such as the Foundation for Government Accountability, a think tank based in Florida.

Many employers are clearly not waiting for the laws to change. Fast-food chains, which rely on teen-age workers, seemingly treat fines for violating the laws as a cost of doing business. (It’s the franchisees who actually break the laws, while the parent corporations pay lobbyists to help loosen them.) In February, the Labor Department announced that it had found more than a hundred children between the ages of thirteen and seventeen working in meatpacking plants and slaughterhouses, in eight states, for Packers Sanitation Services, one of the nation’s largest food-sanitation companies. The facilities themselves are owned by major corporations, including Tyson Foods and JBS. (All three companies denied that they had engaged in any wrongdoing.) The children worked overnight shifts at such jobs as cleaning bone saws and head splitters with hazardous chemicals. At least three were injured. Packers, which is owned by Blackstone, the world’s largest private-equity firm, paid a civil fine of a million and a half dollars.

Ah. Won’t somebody think about the meatpackers children?

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