Iowa Governor Signs Bill to Loosen Child Labor Laws

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill on May 26 that loosens child labor laws by allowing under 18-year-olds to work longer hours on school nights and in expanded roles, including serving alcohol in bars and restaurants. The Republican governor signed Senate File 542 after it was approved by the Legislature earlier in May with only Republican support. Reynolds said Iowa is joining 20 other states in providing “tailored, common sense labor provisions” that let minors develop skills in the workforce. “In Iowa, we understand there is dignity in work and we pride ourselves on our strong work ethic,” Reynolds said in a news release. “Instilling those values in the next generation and providing opportunities for young adults to earn and save to build a better life should be available.” Child welfare advocates worry the measures represent a coordinated push to scale back hard-won protections for minors. The new law would let 16- and 17-year-olds work in areas such as manufacturing as long as it was in a work-based learning program given an exemption by the Iowa Department of Education or Iowa Workforce Development. Those jobs could potentially mean the teens would operate power saws or join in demolition. It also allows teens over age 16 to sell and serve alcohol in restaurants while the kitchen remains open, as long as business owners have written permission from the worker’s parent or guardian. Two adult employees would need to be in an area where the children served drinks, and restaurant employees would need to complete sexual harassment prevention training. Democrats argued that easing the rules would put teens in harm’s way and distract them from school and extracurricular activities, while the bill’s backers maintained that it would provide greater job opportunities. The new law allows 14- and 15-year-olds to work two additional hours per day when school is in session, from four to six hours. They are also able to work until 9 p.m. during most of the year and until 11 p.m. from June 1 to Labor Day, two hours later than previously allowed. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds are now permitted to work the same hours as an adult. Among the expanded employment opportunities outlined under the new law, 14- and 15-year-olds would be able to do certain types of work in industrial laundry services and in freezers and meat coolers, both areas that were previously prohibited. As the bill made its way through the state Legislature, opponents of the measure argued that it could not only endanger the safety of children but would also target teens from lower-income and minority backgrounds. However, proponents said the bill did not require any child to work and pointed to a provision that eliminates exemptions previously allowing children under the age of 14 to work, including selling newspapers and other items door-to-door. Reynolds has been a proponent of expanding youth employment opportunities. Last year, she signed a bill that lowered the minimum age requirement to provide unsupervised care to school-age children in child care facilities to 16. Meanwhile, legislators in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Iowa are actively considering relaxing child labor laws to address worker shortages, which are driving up wages and contributing to inflation. Employers have struggled to fill open positions after a spike in retirements, deaths and illnesses, decreases in legal immigration, and other factors. The job market is one of the tightest since World War II, with the unemployment rate at 3.4 percent—the lowest in 54 years. Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, students aged 14 and 15 can only work until 7 p.m. during the school year. Congress passed the law in 1938 to stop children from being exposed to dangerous conditions and abusive practices in mines, factories, farms, and street trades. The Associated Press and CNN Wire contributed to this report.

Iowa Governor Signs Bill to Loosen Child Labor Laws

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill on May 26 that loosens child labor laws by allowing under 18-year-olds to work longer hours on school nights and in expanded roles, including serving alcohol in bars and restaurants.

The Republican governor signed Senate File 542 after it was approved by the Legislature earlier in May with only Republican support.

Reynolds said Iowa is joining 20 other states in providing “tailored, common sense labor provisions” that let minors develop skills in the workforce.

“In Iowa, we understand there is dignity in work and we pride ourselves on our strong work ethic,” Reynolds said in a news release. “Instilling those values in the next generation and providing opportunities for young adults to earn and save to build a better life should be available.”

Child welfare advocates worry the measures represent a coordinated push to scale back hard-won protections for minors.

The new law would let 16- and 17-year-olds work in areas such as manufacturing as long as it was in a work-based learning program given an exemption by the Iowa Department of Education or Iowa Workforce Development. Those jobs could potentially mean the teens would operate power saws or join in demolition.

It also allows teens over age 16 to sell and serve alcohol in restaurants while the kitchen remains open, as long as business owners have written permission from the worker’s parent or guardian. Two adult employees would need to be in an area where the children served drinks, and restaurant employees would need to complete sexual harassment prevention training.

Democrats argued that easing the rules would put teens in harm’s way and distract them from school and extracurricular activities, while the bill’s backers maintained that it would provide greater job opportunities.

The new law allows 14- and 15-year-olds to work two additional hours per day when school is in session, from four to six hours. They are also able to work until 9 p.m. during most of the year and until 11 p.m. from June 1 to Labor Day, two hours later than previously allowed. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds are now permitted to work the same hours as an adult.

Among the expanded employment opportunities outlined under the new law, 14- and 15-year-olds would be able to do certain types of work in industrial laundry services and in freezers and meat coolers, both areas that were previously prohibited.

As the bill made its way through the state Legislature, opponents of the measure argued that it could not only endanger the safety of children but would also target teens from lower-income and minority backgrounds.

However, proponents said the bill did not require any child to work and pointed to a provision that eliminates exemptions previously allowing children under the age of 14 to work, including selling newspapers and other items door-to-door.

Reynolds has been a proponent of expanding youth employment opportunities. Last year, she signed a bill that lowered the minimum age requirement to provide unsupervised care to school-age children in child care facilities to 16.

Meanwhile, legislators in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Iowa are actively considering relaxing child labor laws to address worker shortages, which are driving up wages and contributing to inflation. Employers have struggled to fill open positions after a spike in retirements, deaths and illnesses, decreases in legal immigration, and other factors.

The job market is one of the tightest since World War II, with the unemployment rate at 3.4 percent—the lowest in 54 years.

Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, students aged 14 and 15 can only work until 7 p.m. during the school year. Congress passed the law in 1938 to stop children from being exposed to dangerous conditions and abusive practices in mines, factories, farms, and street trades.

The Associated Press and CNN Wire contributed to this report.