Watch CBS News

Iowa moves to weaken child labor laws, joining other states

Lawmakers in Iowa passed a bill this week that, among other things, would allow children to work an additional two hours on school days and grant some underage teenagers permission to serve alcohol in restaurants. 

Senate File 542 now awaits approval from Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds — who expressed support of the measure last month. With Reynolds' signature, Iowa would join other states that have dialed back longstanding child labor protections or are looking to do so soon. Arkansas passed its Youth Hiring Act in March, which eliminated the requirement for children under 16 to obtain an employment certificate before getting hired. Lawmakers across eight states — including Minnesota and Missouri — have bills in progress that weaken youth labor laws, according to an Economic Policy Institute analysis

Iowa's bill would permit 14- and 15-year-olds to work in freezers and meat coolers, which is currently prohibited. The measure, passed Tuesday, would also allow the teens to work until 9 p.m. most days and until 11 p.m between June 1 and Labor Day.

Iowa Democrats said state Republicans are pushing the bill in hopes of solving the state's labor shortage woes. Children shouldn't be allowed to work until 9 p.m. or 11 p.m. because violent crime happens the most in Iowa during late hours, said State Rep. Jeff Cooling. 

"This is a risk that we're putting our kids at — working in late hours just to be robbed at their place of employment," Cooling said during a legislative session Tuesday. 

Teenagers still need a parent's permission to work any of the expanded hours mentioned in the bill, said Republican Adrian Dickey, who sponsored the measure.

"More opportunities for youth"

"The goal of this legislation was to create more opportunities for youth and more flexibility for them to pursue potential careers," Dickey told CBS MoneyWatch in a statement Thursday. "Never was it crafted with the intention of solving any sort of a workforce issue. Despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, this bill is a common sense update to Iowa's youth employment laws."

School-aged children are often out late for sports or extracurricular activity so other teens "should be encouraged, not looked at negatively" if they want to work late, Dickey said. 

Changes to youth labor laws are popping up across the South and Midwestern states — all with their own different wrinkles. A bill introduced in February in Minnesota for example would allow teenagers to work on construction sites. Bills in Missouri and Ohio would extend the time teenagers can work to 10 p.m. and 9 p.m., respectively. 

In Arkansas, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed the state's revised youth labor law because she "believes protecting kids is most important, but doing so with arbitrary burdens on parents to get permission from the government for their child to get a job is burdensome and obsolete," a Sanders spokeswoman told CBS MoneyWatch.

The new wave of measures come as federal lawmakers are looking to crackdown on companies that abuse child labor laws. 

Biden administration to crack down on migrant child labor following report 04:24

Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Peter Welch of Vermont introduced the Child Labor Exploitation Accountability Act last month — which would prohibit the U.S. Department of Agriculture from contracting with companies that have a history of "egregious labor law violations." The bill would also require businesses competing for USDA contracts to disclose any workplace infractions by the company or its contractors that occurred in the preceding three years. 

The Biden administration last month urged U.S. companies to make sure they aren't illegally hiring children to perform dangerous jobs, after an investigation found more than 100 kids working overnight and handling hazardous equipment — like skull splitters and bone saws — for a company that cleans slaughterhouses across the country.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.