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Bill would put children to work

A bill by Republican lawmakers in Iowa would amend the state’s existing child labor laws to allow teenagers as young as 14 to work in jobs and industries currently forbidden to them, including by working inside industrial freezers, cleaning kitchens, laundering and loading or unloading vehicles. The bill would also allow 14- and 15-year-olds to work longer hours and also permit 17-year-olds to work as long as adults.  

Another provision would shield corporations who employ child laborers from legal action if those children are sickened, hurt or killed on the job. The legislation could prevent the young employees from earning worker’s compensation. Under the bill, a business would have “no liability” for any kind of “negligent act or omission,” though business wouldn't be immune from “gross negligence or willful misconduct.” 

Iowan labor advocates have heavily criticized the bill since its introduction at the end of January. “Not only is this ripping up at least 100 years of child labor law that this labor movement has worked for, it seriously puts children at risk on job sites without having any form of legal liability protection,” Charlie Wishman, the president of the Iowa AFL-CIO, told the news outlet Iowa Starting Line.  

Republican State Senator Jason Schultz introduced the bill in response to the shortage of workers plaguing Iowa industries. 

Democratic State Senator Nate Boulton, a former attorney specializing in labor law, told Iowa Starting Line that “putting children at risk, and creating immunity for that risk, is not acceptable.” 



Bill seeks minimum wage jail workers

A Washington legislator who was previously incarcerated has introduced legislation that would require incarcerated workers to be paid the state’s minimum wage.

The Real Labor, Real Wages Act, sponsored by State Rep. Tarra Simmons, would raise the pay for prison workers to $15.74 an hour. Colorado is currently the only state that pays incarcerated workers the state’s minimum wage.

“A lot of lawmakers aren’t prioritizing the issues of the incarcerated population because they haven’t lived that experience,” Simmons, a Democrat, told The Seattle Times. “I think we are spending a lot of money on incarceration, but it’s not being done in a way that will truly help people be successful when they reenter.”

More than 1,600 inmates worked 218,335 hours at Washington Correctional Industries during the most recent fiscal year, contributing $46.2 million to the state’s economy, according to the newspaper.

Simmons, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison in 2011 for theft and drug crimes, told The Times that she was paid no more than 42 cents an hour when she worked the graveyard shift. Currently, inmates can earn a maximum of $2.70 an hour, Seattle public radio station KUOW reported.

Some legislators, including Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, a Republican, opposed the bill, citing its expense. It is expected to cost $97.5 million annually, The Times reported.

— C.L.


Labor gains at smaller companies

Unionizing efforts made substantial gains among retail and service industry companies last year, an analysis by Bloomberg Law found. Organizing at Starbucks and Apple locations in particular acted as catalysts for employees at smaller companies and the creation of independent unions, Bloomberg noted. 

Its survey of federal data, for example, revealed that the Service Employees International Union carried 386 elections last year, adding nearly 20,000 workers to the union’s rolls, more than four times the number the SEIU won in 2021. More than two-thirds of those successes were attributable to Starbucks workers, Bloomberg found.

The United Food and Commercial Workers added 111 union wins, more than twice the union’s 2021 tally. 

The analysis showed that union wins were concentrated in workplaces of fewer than 50 employees. The 955 wins in those smaller units amounted to 66 percent more than the 575 successes in 2021.

“We’ve had an increasing interest in organizing from rank-and-file workers across the country that’s been growing for a number of years,” AFL-CIO Deputy Director of Organizing Christian Sweeney told Bloomberg. 

“There just has to be a common thread between the growth in retail and services, growth in independent unions, and growth in small units,” Sharon Block, the executive director of the Center for Labor and a Just Economy at Harvard Law School, told Bloomberg Law. 

“This just says to me, the workers at Starbucks are onto something,” said Block, a former National Labor Relations Board member and a Labor Department official in the Obama and Biden administrations. “They have come up with a model that is very attractive and inspiring — and is contagious.” 

— R.K.


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