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Hold the Employers Accountable

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I am 100% on board with this strategy:

The union representing meatpacking workers employed by Tony Downs Foods in Madelia, Minn., has a new and historic proposal in response to the plant’s employment of teenagers aged 14 to 17 in illegal and hazardous positions.

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 663, which represents over 5,000 essential meatpackers across Minnesota including workers at Tony Downs Foods, is demanding the establishment of a child wellbeing fund. The employer would contribute 10 cents per each regular hour worked up to $50,000 to go toward alleviating working conditions that violate child labor laws, like the long hours that children have been found working into the night, and providing opportunities that would benefit the community, like summer internships.

Rena Wong, president of UFCW Local 663, says that the union is hoping this demand is the beginning of establishing a standard for child wellbeing funds across Minnesota and the United States. “We can’t let this continue,” Wong says of the illegal practices. “We have to be leaders and create solutions so that our kids feel safe that they are loved and that they’re taken care of and can just be children.”

The union says they are not aware of any other labor contract proposals like this seeking to address and prevent child labor violations, although violations have been increasing across the United States. Reporting in The New York Times on migrant child labor spurred initiatives and investigations from government agencies tasked with enforcement. Photos of children in Minnesota working in hazardous positions for meatpacking companies and news of children dying in the roofing and poultry industries are just some of the stories making headlines as lawmakers have attempted rollbacks of child labor protections in state legislatures.

“These children should not be working, they should be going to school,” said Marbel Bruno, who has worked at Tony Downs Foods for 16 years, in a press release. “I wouldn’t want my children at that age working. They overcame so many fears to come here and become something. Studying is what is going to give them a better life.”

This is a fantastic contract proposal. This is also the kind of forward thinking we need from unions on various policy outcomes. You can often not win politically, but sometimes you can win in the contract. Moreover, going forward with this publicly means it’s a very serious proposal, given that unions a) usually have big proposals as a strategy to toss them out in bargaining to protect the core issues and b) like to keep negotiations quiet.

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