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Trump Wants to Repeal Child Labor Law

The DOL is considering repealing a rule banning 16 and 17 year olds from doing a number of dangerous jobs

Kris LaGrange's picture
May 10, 2018

Of all of the workplace safety laws and regulations that Trump could consider overturning, child labor laws were probably not at the top of the list. However, Bloomberg Law is reporting that Trump and the Labor Department are planning to do just that.

The change would be relaxing the Hazardous Occupations Orders, which bars 16 and 17-year-old apprentices and student learners from receiving extended, supervised training in certain dangerous jobs. Some of the jobs included are roofing work, as well as operating chainsaws, and various other power-driven machines that federal law recognizes as too dangerous for youths younger than 18. Currently, only students in vocational programs are able to get an exemption, which limits their work to one hour a day.

While the Trump administration is pushing the change, there is at least one Democrat in the Senate who believes that allowing high schoolers to work in more dangerous jobs is a good idea. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) pushed Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to consider lifting the rule during a March 14th infrastructure hearing. She questioned how a one-hour time limit could truly be about safety concerns when teens can work a full day on this machinery once they turn 18.

Trump officials are trying to frame this change as part of their support for creating more skilled workers, saying that lifting the rule will give students a leg up for when they enter apprenticeship programs. Child labor advocates disagree though saying that the reduction in serious workplace injuries and deaths over the last few decades can be directly credited to tougher laws like the Hazardous Occupations Orders.

“When I started doing this kind of work 20 years ago, we were losing 70 kids a year at work, and now we are losing usually 20 or less,” Reid Maki, coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition, told Bloomberg Law. “We’ve made substantial progress, and I think that the tightened hazardous occupations rules have played a role in the lowered death tolls for teenage workers. So I would not be in favor of relaxing any of these standards; I think it would be a tragic mistake and would lead to the death of teenage workers.”

Much of the impact of this change will be in how the Department of Labor rolls out new guidelines. A full repeal of the law could mean that teenagers are now allowed to operate meat slicers at the grocery store without supervision. A more narrow roll out may only allow those who are in an approved training program to use these dangerous tools.

“When you find 16-year-olds running a meat slicer or a mini grinder or a trash compactor, we know kids are severely injured in those circumstances,” Michael Hancock, who left the WHD in 2015 to represent workers at the plaintiff firm Cohen Milstein in New York, told Bloomberg Law. “That’s why the laws exist in the first place. Now we’re saying, ‘We’re going to open those hazards up to kids; we hope that the employer is going to follow the law to a T and make sure the kid is being closely supervised,’” added Hancock, who worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations. “I think that stretches credulity to think that’s how it’s actually going to work.”

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