“Well, the midnight headlight blind you on a rainy night
Steep grade up ahead slow me down makin’ no time
But I gotta keep rollin'”
As adults many of us can certainly understand the feelings behind those lyrics from a bygone age where we could at least convince ourselves that there was a better day just down the road if we could just keep on keeping on. Many things have changed in the intervening decades. Not the least of which is the ever escalating war on the worker. It seems that anytime some politicians and political parties get a firmer grip on power the first line of attack is the worker. And it’s our children they have in their sights now. All to literally.
Don’t believe me? Witness the long fought for Ergonomic Standard OSHA issued in the early part of the millennium in an effort to curtail the ever increasing incidence of crippling workplace injuries that was (and is) plaguing workers and workplaces. Due to the lackadaisical efforts by the then POTUS in waiting to sign the legislation into law the incoming Congress & POTUS were able to use a law that had laid dormant since it’s passage to rescind the OSHA Standard and leave workers even worse off than they were previously. By invoking the “Congressional Review Act of 1996” lawmakers were able to not only remove the regulation that had to be approved by Congress before becoming law they were able to prevent OSHA from bringing forward any future proposed standard that would be “substantially similar” to what had taken decades to gather data and testimony on before being crafted. Full disclosure: WisCOSH helped myself and several other workers provide testimony and evidence to OSHA hearings in Chicago.
The same could be said for OSHA‘s Silica Standard. A standard workers and health professionals worked decades to enact. (Full disclosure: I provided testimony and evidence to OSHA hearing in Washington DC in regards to this proposed standard also.) Workers managed to keep that standard. But they lost one of the more effective tools workers have for identifying workplace injuries and illnesses when the US Supreme Court decided that although employers had been required to keep records of workplace injuries and illnesses (OSHA‘s 300 Log) and retain them for at least 5 years that if discrepancies were found more than 6 months previously they could not be used in citing an employer for noncompliance.
Congressional lawmakers are currently working to eliminate the ability of agencies like OSHA and the EPA from being able to make or enforce regulations at all. They are claiming that by allowing these agencies to do so it usurps Congresses powers of making laws. Despite the fact that Congress explicitly gave them the power to do so when the agencies were created by Congress. And that those proposed regulations have to be passed by Congress before they can take effect.
And here in Wisconsin the legislature is currently revisiting its bad idea of eliminating work permits for teen workers under the age of 18. Under the Gov. Scott Walker the legislature removed the requirement for 16 and 17 year olds to have a work permit in order to be employed. They are now considering removing the requirement for 14 and 15 year olds. This is following a trend currently sweeping Republican lead states.
They have no good reasons for doing so just the same old excuses. The claim it will streamline the hiring process. They claim it will cut back in the “governmental red tape” that is a burden employers. And the minors too. They claim that eliminating the requirement for work permits won’t eliminate any child safety restrictions. They claim that not needing the work permit will enable them to get to work soon. They claim that schools – who arguably may be spending more time with the minors than their parents in many instances – have no business being able to stop a child from being employed. They claim it’s not like they’re going to be sending them off to work in the coal mines. Yet it rapidly becomes apparent that they won’t much care if the end up there. Or working in meat packing facilities. Or delivering drinks in bars and restaurants.
Witness the need for the federal government to crack down on the exploitation of migrant children being exploited in the workplace. With hundreds of companies employing thousands of minors last year in violation of federal labor laws it would seem lessening the laws there to protect them is going in the wrong direction. If there is no requirement of a work permit, if there is no school involvement in determining whether a child is capable of working and performing their schooling and if there is no guarantee that parents will even know that their child is working just how safe can these minors be? As it is many employers either forget or don’t care how old a minor worker is when assigning them work duties.
Witness the widespread situation that occurred in meat packing facilities across the country when they outsourced the cleaning of facilities and equipment. It’s all too easy in this modern workplace for employers to outsource jobs to agencies and claim they had no knowledge of who they had coming into their facilities and it’s not their fault. Or concern.
Witness the unfortunate situation earlier this year when a youth lost his life to unsafe working conditions. The employer and the Dept of Labor have reached an agreement that the employer will adhere to child labor laws now and in the future and pay a fine as well as “prominently display labels and signs barring minors from using dangerous machinery or even entering the company’s sawmill and planer buildings. It has also agreed not to hire workers under the age of 16 and inform the DOL before hiring any minors” it does nothing for the family and the loss of their child nor the community of 641 a vibrant and shining star. The work this minor was performing is legal for a person of his age in the State of WI.
“How do you know this?” you might ask. I know this because for more than 18 years WisCOSH provided workplace health and safety training to students in Milwaukee’s Riverside University High School that were in the Career Pathways program. For 15 of those years I was the person providing the training. I worked with the students as freshmen, sophomores and seniors. I heard from them what they experienced on the job. Things they were asked to do. Things they were told to do. Things that because of the education they received in the classroom and from WisCOSH they knew they weren’t legally allowed to do because of their age, the hours they were asked/told to work or the part of the school year. They told me about what they heard they friends and coworkers were told to do and how they were able to help them because of the information they received. They told me about how they shared that information with their siblings and parents who often didn’t know it either. And I heard it from their employers when I went into one of the workplaces they were working in.
Unfortunately those students were and are in the minority of students. They were able to receive the information because they had teachers that cared and invited WisCOSH into their classroom. It didn’t cost the teachers anything. It didn’t cost the school anything. It didn’t cost the students anything. WisCOSH still offers the training, we just need teachers willing to let us in to work with the students. And the students need the protection that a work permit provides by ensuring that the parents, school and employer are all aware of who they have in their workplace.
They have your kids and our future.
Don’t let the legislature steal them from us just to enable employers to hire children they can pay low wages instead of an adult. We’ll all lose out when that happens.