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House Commerce and Labor Committee Democrats Issue Statement on Efforts to Rollback Child Labor Laws

Call for investment in workers to strengthen Ohio's economy and address labor shortfalls
May 9, 2023
Juanita O. Brent News

COLUMBUS - State Rep. Lauren McNally (D-Youngstown) and the Democratic members of the Ohio House of Representatives Commerce and Labor Committee today issued statements after several amendments to Substitute Senate Bill (Sub. SB) 30, legislation that would violate the federal Fair Labor Standards Act to allow children to work later into the evening, were voted down. The bill was passed out of Committee along party lines (8-5). 

“As a working mom of four from Youngstown, I know how hard it is for people to come to Columbus and voice their concerns about these dangerous bills. I see it all over my part of the state. Children are not products, they are kids and they are vulnerable,” said Rep. McNally, Ranking Member of the Ohio House Commerce and Labor Committee. “We should be investing in workers, not turning our babies into another cog in the economic wheel. One person’s profits are not more important than the future of this state, or our children.”

In 2021, more than a third (37%) of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 44% reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year. Before the pandemic, mental health was getting worse among high school students. Youth with poor mental health may struggle with school and grades, decision making, and their overall wellbeing. Mental health problems in youth are also often associated with other health and behavioral risks such as increased risk of drug use and experiencing violence.

“The pandemic didn’t just disrupt our economy, it had a measurable, negative impact on children’s mental health. We need to take that seriously, and think about the whole child while we are making these decisions. I’d like to see this state investing more in our children and the unique pressure they are under,” said Rep. Dontavius L. Jarrells (D-Columbus). “Now is not the time to add the weight of improving our state economy onto their shoulders. This is not their responsibility, it is ours, the adults.”

“Ohio is 48th in the nation for public transit funding. If we are not going to properly fund public transit, how do we expect minors who can’t drive to be able to get to these jobs? We’re assuming parents can take their kids to these jobs and that they don’t have other responsibilities,” said Rep. Juanita O. Brent (D-Cleveland). “Do we really want kids out late at night closing down restaurants and riding the bus alone or do we want them at home, in bed, studying and resting for the next day at school? We need to let kids be kids.”

Since 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor has seen a 69 percent increase in children being employed illegally by companies. In the last fiscal year, the department found 835 companies it investigated had employed more than 3,800 children in violation of labor laws, an increase of 37 percent over the previous year. In April, an Ohio lathe mill paid an enhanced child labor enforcement penalty of $22,093 after federal investigators found the company employed a 15-year-old worker illegally in a hazardous occupation – the operation of a sawmill – which led the worker to suffer injury when he became entangled in the gears of a powered wood processing machine.

According to scientifically valid research conducted by the CDC, workers aged 18–19 years had the highest rate of Emergency Department-treated injuries. In 2018, among all age groups, workers in service occupations had the highest percentage of injuries requiring at least 1 day away from work. Among workers aged 15–17 years, those in the leisure and hospitality industry had the highest percentage of work-related injuries requiring at least 1 day away from work. 

“This power dynamic in our workforce is bad. Who hasn’t been asked to work that extra hour or do something unpaid? Adults have a hard time standing up to a greedy boss because they need that job to provide for their family, so how do we expect a kid to do it,” said Rep. Elliot Forhan (D-South Euclid). “The people pushing these bills want to pay kids less than their parents, cut worker hours to avoid providing benefits, and create more hostile and unhappy work environments that burn out employees and cause more accidents on the job. Ohio is setting itself up for an economy full of safety and labor violations from employers who don’t see our children as the precious kids that they are.”

A recent Times investigation showed that over the past two years, more than 250,000 migrant children have come alone to the United States. Thousands of children have ended up in punishing jobs across the country — working overnight in slaughterhouses, replacing roofs, operating machinery in factories — all in violation of child labor laws. In the past decade, federal prosecutors have brought only about 30 cases involving forced labor of unaccompanied minors, according to a Times review of court databases.

“It is concerning when a problem, like filling jobs, is presented to lawmakers with a proposed solution, like child workers, and no evidence that the ‘solution’ actually solves the problem. Not to mention that this conflicts with existing federal law, likely resulting in costly litigation. Democrats support increasing the minimum wage, guaranteeing sick and family leave time, and providing quality public education and healthcare. These policies are the real solutions to growing Ohio’s economy,” said Rep. Richard Dell’Aquila (D-Seven Hills).

Democrats in the Commerce and Labor Committee offered several amendments to Sub. SB 30, many of which focused on addressing gaps in enforcement of existing child labor laws and penalizing violations. AM0808 would have allowed the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Wage and House Administration to hire staff to perform audits of businesses that hire minors, ensuring employers were securing proper work permits and parental consent prior to employment. AM0781-2 would have increased fines for violating existing child labor laws to $50,000 and appropriated $150,000 to investigate minor labor law violations and complaints. AM0778 would have required school employees to report awareness of or reasonable suspicion of a student under 16 years old being employed in a manner that violates Ohio's minor labor laws. Each amendment offered by the Democratic members was voted down, along party lines, before Sub SB 30 was passed out of Committee, also along party lines.

“Not one teacher, not one pediatrician, child psychologist, or person who understands how a child develops, is in favor of this bill. The bill supporters argue that this is a ‘parents’ rights’ issue, but its special interests groups, not parents, that are pushing these changes. I’m a parent. I support a parent’s right to teach their kids about hard work in safe environments. It is one thing for kids to mow lawns or wash cars to earn a buck. That’s not what this is,” said Rep. McNally. “This is a coordinated, national effort to put children in jobs with later, longer hours and more dangerous conditions, grinding them into the ground to avoid paying their adult parents the better wages and benefits they deserve, putting all consumers and people in harm’s way. Ohio can and needs to do better.”

Ohio House Democrats have introduced several pieces of legislation to invest in Ohio workers and families including the Working Families Tax Refund (HB 39), Hire Veterans Tax Credit (HB 53), Increase Minimum Wage to $15 (HB 96), Workers’ Pay Stub Disclosure & Awareness (HB 106), and the Ohio Equal Pay Act (HB 115). Democrats intend to reintroduce the Ohio Fairness Act: LGTBQ+ Workplace & Housing Protections and legislation addressing Affordable, Quality Childcare Services.