GOP Turns Back the Clock 90 years: Guts Child Labor Laws


While we’re all glued to the news wondering whether in a matter of hours Republicans will succeed in shutting down the government, there’s another equally sinister GOP effort underfoot; the erosion of child labor laws.

Child Laborers Before 1941

In January 2011, Utah state Senator Mike Lee (R) (backed by the Tea Party) gave a lecture in Draper UT that included an interesting interpretation of the constitution, claiming child labor laws are unconstitutional and its okay to do away with them.

Congress decided it wanted to prohibit [child labor], so it passed a law – no more child labor. The Supreme Court heard a challenge to that and … decided a case in 1918 called Hammer v. Dagenhardt … the Supreme Court acknowledged something very interesting – that, as reprehensible as child labor is, and as much as it ought to be abandoned – that’s something that has to be done by state legislators, not by Members of Congress.

This may sound harsh, but it was designed to be that way. It was designed to be a little bit harsh. Not because we like harshness for the sake of harshness, but because we like a clean division of power, so that everybody understands whose job it is to regulate what. … Now, we got rid of child labor, notwithstanding this case. So the entire world did not implode as a result of that ruling.[Video]

Ian Millhiser [Think Progress] is on point regarding Lee’s interpretation of the Constitution and child labor laws:

Lee’s call for a return to failed constitutional vision that spawned the Great Depression is obviously wrong. The Constitution gives Congress the power “[t]o regulate commerce…among the several states,” and to “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution” this power to regulate commerce. Even ultraconservative Justice Antonin Scalia agrees that these powers give Congress broad authority to regulate “economic activity” such as hiring and firing. Which explains why the Supreme Court unanimously overruled Hammer v. Daggenhardt in a 1941 decision called United States v. Darby. [….]

I believe Lee’s inaccurate interpretation is contrived. He ignored the Darby ruling because it doesn’t fit his message to ultra-conservatives for the next battle in the GOP’s war on America’s middle-class. By citing the Constitution and a ruling (albeit over-turned) by the Supreme Court, he gave his audience seemingly irrefutable proof that doing away with child labor laws is not only the right thing to do, but the states must take up the cause to correct this “error.”

In February, Republicans in two states responded.

Missouri State Senator Jane Cunningham (also backed by the Tea-Party) introduced SB 222 that proposed to:

  • Repeal restrictions for workers under age 14.
  • Remove the requirement that workers under age 16 obtain a work permit.
  • Loosen industry restrictions on employment of minors [such as allow hotels to employ children under age 16].
  • Strip Missouri’s Department of Labor of the authority to inspect workplaces that employ children.
  • Eliminate employer record-keeping requirements.
  • Abolish the presumption that the presence of a child in the workplace is evidence of her/his employment.
  • Fortunately for Missouri’s children, SB 222 died in committee.

In Maine, two bills were introduced that passed the state’s House and Senate, and have been referred to the state’s legislative labor committee. State Rep. David Burns (R) (and seven co-sponsors) introduced LD 1346 (HP 987) An Act To Enhance Access to the Workplace for Minors, and State Sen. Debra Plowman (R) introduced LD 516 (SP 149) An Act To Amend Maine Law To Conform with Federal Law Regarding Employment Practices for Certain Minors.

LD 1346 proposes to:

  • Lower the state’s minimum wage from $7.50 per hour to $5.25 per hour for workers under age 20 for the first 180 days on the job.
  • Remove limits on the number of hours workers age 16-17 can work on school days.
  • Increase by four hours the amount of time during a school day workers under age 16 can work.
  • Repeal the requirement that child-workers obtain a work permit from the school district, substituting parental sign-off on a consent form.

LD 516 proposes to:

  • Repeal limits on the number of hours workers age 16 and under can work when school is not in session.
  • Remove all limits on the number of hours 17-year-olds can work.

On an economic level, it appears that the GOP’s strategy is to remove all oversight for businesses, allowing them free reign in order to cut the cost of doing business in this country. Could it be what’s driving this effort are the new laws that fine companies who send jobs overseas? Perhaps some industries seek ways to do business within our borders for the same cost as they do in under-developed nations.

Attacking child labor laws will, in effect, lower the minimum wage as well as create a younger, less-experienced labor market akin to third-world countries. Gutting federal agencies like Education, Environmental Protection, OSHA and others aides in this process.

While the cost of business may be a little higher here, eliminating the rules for safety and well-being is not the answer for cutting overhead. China, which is notoriously lax on safety regulations, is a perfect example of what happens when you throw the rule book away. There have been numerous recalls all over the world of Chinese products, including poisonous puff fish mistaken for monk fish, melamine in toothpaste, toxic lead in toys, and more. The worst contamination in China’s history thus far is the melamine found in over 100 brands of baby formula. To date, approximately 53,000 Chinese infants have become ill from consuming contaminated formula; over half required hospitalization.

So, besides restructuring the labor market and putting our lives at risk, there’s that other pesky problem with ultra-conservatism; an unbearable ideology that should turn every American into an unstoppable far left activist.

I started out this post with comments from US Sen. Lee from Utah that he gave during a lecture in Draper UT. There’s a whole lot more in Lee’s lecture that everyone should hear. If Lee gets his way, he’ll set this country’s progress back 100 years or more. This is why I am driven and forever vigilant.

The same legal theory Lee uses to impugn child labor laws applies equally to the federal minimum wage and the ban on whites-only lunch counters. … In a subsequent section of the lecture, Lee attacks President Franklin Roosevelt for calling for the federal government to provide “a decent retirement plan” and “health care” because “the Constitution doesn’t give Congress any of those powers.” [Video]

Bills to change child labor laws split local legislators

Proposed changes to child labor law spark concern

Maine Republicans seek to loosen child labor laws

Sen. Mike Lee Calls Child Labor Laws Unconstitutional

Doomed to Repeat History: The Right Re-embraces Lunatic Legal Arguments from the Past

History of Child Labor

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