06-01-2011 by Linda S. Carbonell
Maine’s Republican Governor Paul LePage, he who removed the state’s historical labor murals from the Department of Labor, has signed a severely watered-down version of a bill changing the state’s child labor laws. The bill was supported by both the 16 and 17 year olds addressed in the law and the owners of the businesses they work for. Teens tend to earn minimum wage, and don’t usually stay with a company long enough to qualify for raises. Only about 4% of adults earn minimum wage.
The law increases the number of hours per week that a 16 and 17 year old can work from 20 to 24 hours per week. It also raises the per-day limit from 4 to 6 hours and allows them to work until 10:15 on school nights. It will be up to parents to decide if their kids can handle the work load and their school loads or if that even matters to them. The original bill, sponsored by Sen. Debra Plowman, Republican of Hampden, would have removed all hour restrictions for 17 year olds and all summer restrictions on 16 year olds. Her family owns a garage-door installation business.
One of opponents of the bill, Rep. Timothy Driscoll, Democrat of Westbrook, told the Huffington Post that the bill “did get softened up a bit, but it still wasn’t to my liking.” He said that teens should be focused on school, not work, and the law allows employers to “exploit children.” Another bill, proposed earlier this year, would have reduced the minimum wage for teens to $5.25 an hour instead of the state’s $7.50. It was voted down in committee. The bill was called “An Act To Enhance Access To The Workplace For Minors” – seriously, that’s what they called it.
According to Driscoll, the usual excuse for pushing bills that make it easier and cheaper to hire teens is that some kids are cut out for school and some aren’t. There’s a way to deal with that reality, the way they do in other countries. Real companies have real apprentice programs. In fact, a senior executive from an American bank, with his MBA is very likely to find him/herself across a bargaining table from a Japanese senior executive who started with his/her bank as a teen-aged apprentice. Driscoll says “I’ve always pushed back on that. What we should be doing is giving every kid a fair opportunity to get ahead and make sure they’re afforded an education. They’ll have the rest of their lives to work.” Even those jobs that we think of as manual labor require at least an ability to read and write. We already have too many kids who drop out or manage to get something that resembles a high school diploma and are functionally illiterate.
Unfortunately, there is a fiscal reality in this situation that no one is discussing. Many families need those kids’ paychecks. It’s the reason my father and his brothers all quit school during the Depression. The family needed every penny they could earn at whatever jobs 12 year olds could find. The sad part is realizing how close we are to that again.
Our thanks to Karim Walker for sending this story on to us. We’ve been having some really weird net problems today and the help is deeply appreciated.