Parents and labor leaders protest Republican plan to loosen child labor laws

Hundreds of union workers and parents filled the Iowa State Capitol with chants of “Our kids are not for sale!” on Monday afternoon. The group, organized by Progress Iowa, rallied in the rotunda to protest a bill that would loosen child labor laws in the state, allowing 14- to 17-year-olds to work jobs that are now off-limits to them, as well as longer hours.

SF 167, introduced by Sen. Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig, would roll back protections for minors in the workplace, allowing them to do jobs currently prohibited by state law for health and safety reasons. With a waiver issued by Iowa Workforce Development or the Iowa Department of Education, minors as young as 14 would be allowed to work inside freezers, meat coolers and in industrial laundries during the school year for up to six hours a day, with extended hours in the summer. Fifteen-year-olds would be able to work on assembly lines, loading and unloading shipments up to 50 pounds.

SF 167 and the House version of the bill, HSB 134, have both been passed by subcommittees, and now await action by the Workforce Committee in the Senate and the Commerce Committee in the House.

“We are not selling our kids out to multi-national corporations for profit. We are not selling our kids out to multi-national corporations for cheap labor,” Charlie Wishman, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, at the rally on Monday. “Our kids, we see their dreams. You all see profit. That’s why you’re doing this.”

Under the bill, teens could use more equipment in kitchen jobs, such as meat-slicing machines, and 16- and 17-year-olds could serve alcohol.

“Bartending for a 16 to 17 year old, I have to ask myself, ‘What are you thinking?’ … Our kids need to be kids, and not forced to be adults,” said Sandy Conway, an ultrasonic inspector at Arconic Davenport Works, and member of United Steel Workers Local 105. “[Factories are] no place for 14- to 15-year-old kids to be … They have no business in that environment.”

The bill would also immunize a company against being held civilly liable if a teenage worker is sickened, injured or killed while working, or if anyone is hurt because of the teen’s negligence. Teen workers would be eligible for worker’s compensation if they are injured.

“We’re not doing it for sure with absolutely no recourse for them if they are hurt or killed on the job, and you all know it’s gonna happen. Otherwise you wouldn’t put that in the bill, would ya?” Wishman said. “You’re doing this for profit. You’re selling our kids.”

The protesters marched from the rotunda to the office of Senate President Amy Sinclair, shouting “Our kids are not for sale!” They delivered a letter before heading to the office of Speaker of the House Pat Grassley, where Wishman spoke with Rep. Matt Windschitl, the House majority leader.