Much attention has rightly been devoted to recent orders by Governor Paul LePage to remove murals and the names of figures such as FDR Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins (the first woman to hold that position) from the Maine Department of Labor office. These represent nothing short of an attack on working-class culture and people’s historical memories, as well as just how extensive the right’s assaults on workers and their rights have become. Yet legislative efforts in Maine and around the nation extend even beyond these attacks, and now include broad efforts to roll back protections for another group of workers–children–whose history of exploitation in the US is well established, and the images of which were ironically removed from the Maine labor murals.
LD 1346 suggests several significant changes to Maine’s child labor law, most notably a 180-day period during which workers under age 20 would earn $5.25 an hour.
The state’s current minimum wage is $7.50 an hour.
Rep. David Burns, R-Whiting, is sponsoring the bill, which also would eliminate the maximum number of hours a minor over 16 can work during school days.
Burns’ bill is particularly insidious, because it directly encourages employers to hire children or teenagers instead of adult workers. Because workers under 20 could be paid less than adults under this GOP proposal, minimum wage workers throughout Maine would likely receive a pink slip as their twentieth birthday present so that their boss could replace them with someone younger and cheaper.
And Burns is just one of many prominent Republicans who believe that America’s robust protections against the exploitation of children are wrongheaded:
- Maine State Sen. Debra Plowman (R) introduced a separate bill that would extend the number of hours employers can require a minor to work. Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) backs this proposal.
- Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) delivered a lengthy lecture where he claimed that federal child labor laws violate the Constitution. His Republican colleagues in the Senate rewarded him with a seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee — the committee with jurisdiction over constitutional questions.
- Missouri State Sen. Jane Cunningham (R) introduced a bill which would “eliminate the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen. Restrictions on the number of hours and restrictions on when a child may work during the day are also removed.”
- Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s (R) most recent brief attacking the Affordable Care Act relies heavily on a discredited Supreme Court decision striking down a federal child labor law that was overruled decades ago.
- Judges Roger Vinson and Henry Hudson, the two outlier judges who struck down the ACA, also relied heavily on this discredited anti-child labor decision in their decisions.
Republicans’ contempt for workers is hardly news. GOP governors throughout the country have declared war on collective bargaining, and the national minimum wage remained stagnant for nearly a decade the last time Republicans controlled Congress. Nevertheless, the GOP’s increasingly widespread assaults on child labor laws is a significant escalation from their longstanding war on adult workers.
There are no bounds to the shame of this. If anyone disagrees, please ask yourself whether or not you wish your children to work longer hours, in tougher conditions, for less than the minimum wage, and at an earlier age. Such bills would literally turn back child labor and aspects of labor law back a century.