Proposed changes to child labor law spark concern

AUGUSTA — Groups representing restaurants and hotels sparred with worker advocates on Wednesday over a bill that would ease work restrictions within the state's 20-year-old child labor law.

The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, and backed by Gov. Paul LePage. Both believe high school-age students should be allowed to work longer hours and more often during the school year.

Opponents said the proposal would dial back child-labor protections enacted in 1991 to prevent employers from pressuring minors into working longer hours. They also worried the proposal would shift emphasis from education and school-sponsored, extra-curricular activities.

Currently, 16- and 17-year-olds can work a maximum of 20 hours per week when school is in session. On school days, students can work a maximum of four hours a day and no later than 10 p.m.

Plowman's bill would increase the weekly limit by 12 hours, from 20 to 32 hours. It would also allow minors to work six-hour days, up until 11 p.m.

Plowman originally proposed reverting to federal law by removing the limits altogether. That proposal was supported by LePage, but Plowman changed it amid pressure from worker advocates.

Plowman said her amended bill was designed to allow students to save money for college and to work jobs with later shifts.

The amended bill is still opposed by worker advocates.

Laura Harper of the Maine Women's Lobby told the Legislature's Labor Committee the bill could hurt classroom performance. Drawing from her own experience as a teenager, Harper said her employer would often schedule her to work the maximum 20 hours allowed under law.

Matt Schlobohm of the Maine AFL-CIO said Plowman's proposal rolled back protections that were established when educators were complaining that children were falling asleep in class after working too many hours.

"This legislation takes us back 20 years," Schlobohm said. 

Industry groups, including the Maine Restaurant Association, argued Wednesday that Maine's law was too strict compared to child labor laws in other New England states. For example, Vermont law aligns with federal law for 16- and 17-year olds and imposes no work limits during the school year.

Grotton said Maine's law "penalized" employers. But Democrats on the panel wondered what was driving the proposal.

"I'm trying to figure out where this is coming from," Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, said. "Everybody says this is for the kids, but I don't see any kids (in the committee room)."

Rep. Robert Hunt, D-Buxton, worried the proposal would allow employers to "coax kids to work more than they want."

Grotton said those decisions would be made by students and their parents.

"But what if the parent isn't as involved as most of us would like?" Hunt asked.

Representatives from the Department of Labor testified in favor of the bill. The department is now overseen by the LePage administration.

In 2000 the Department of Labor produced a 16-page informational flier outlining Maine's child labor laws. The flier also described the dangers of students working too many hours during the school year, including workplace fatigue and operating machinery designed for adults.

Plowman's bill drew a sharp rebuke from Charlotte Warren, associate director of the Women's Lobby. In a release titled "What's next — running with scissors?" Warren blasted LePage's support for the bill.

"Gutting child labor laws does nothing to increase jobs," she wrote.

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Jim Cyr's picture

Putting Value on Kids Education

Then that should be a different agenda! Why is the graduation rate @ Lewiston High School among the lowest in the State???? It's certainly not because of the high employment rate of the said students! Did not most of us, in the "Baby Boomer" generation, work when we were in high school?And how did that work out as to your situation today? I worked well over the 20 hours a week all through high school and I was not an honor student,(till I got to college) and I still graduated in the upper 3rd of my graduating class of 465 students. I believe it only enhances character! Most of the people that visit the S.J. commentary site seem to think the "Nanny State" is the solution when in actuality, it's the problem.

Kaileigh Tara's picture

If you leave it to the "market" in this case

the pressure will be to work the later and longer shifts on school nights, and the kids who have to go home and go homework will not get the jobs, the kids who don't put the grades first, will. It is that simple, the dollar will drive the hiring, cheap labor- it is that simple, but THE WAY LIFE SHOULD BE- we value education of our children and certainly value that they can learn the lesson of earning money and understanding the value of a dollar. We get that. We were wise enough in the past to teach our children that the best future lay in putting their education FIRST.
Apparently= NOT in this administration and why are we surprised???
Just another LePage travesty.
I've been working since I was 11. I worked throughout high school. While I worked the maximum hours I was allowed, my parents insisted I get As and that I was always on the honor roll. We needed the income, but the grades were the most important.
These are desperate times.
We know that in the future most all jobs will REQUIRE a DEGREE. We must ensure our children put the utmost importance on education.
This bill is irresponsible and poor business - good economic planning KNOWS that the investment and support of EDUCATION is directly proportional to the quality, skill and availability of the future workforce.
If we shortcut or cut out any education now we eliminate and shortchange ALL or our economic futures- everyone's.

We are headed backwards.............

What is the matter with our folks in Augusta ? Our kids need to be studying in the evening, not working later hours. Education should be number one, not the all mighty dollar. Let the welfare people take their turn at working for a change. Our kids need to be kids. Earning more money is not going to help the situation. It seems to me that the people employing these kids are the winners. We need to find more ways to help our children increase their education. Enough said........

Jim Cyr's picture

Yes Again!

Mr.Donald, Government can not create jobs other than to stay out of the way of FREE ENTERPRISE and control the regulations to that which is reasonable(ie,safety,pollution control and etc....)Businesses can not create jobs with "Big Governments' " foot on their throat. And it may help Mainers life by instilling work ethics and responsibility and maybe even help pay for school tuitions! Being reasonable such as limiting work hours during school days and make up on weekends to achieve the hour limits. And/or school days off such as holidays and vacations. Maybe even pool hours on a monthly basis or whatever and still be in the allowable total times.
It seems to me that if Vermont's school achievements are higher than in Maine, something must be working for them. GOVERNMENT GOVERNS BEST WHEN IT GOVERNS LEAST! This is not just an idea but a fact!

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

When will they begin telling the truth; they don't know the trut

Plowman introduced this bill so that restaurants can cut costs by replacing adult workers with children who they can pay less and intimidate more. Now we have listened to Governor Walker of Wisconsin lie in the same way telling us that his union-busting proposals were necessary to end his budget crisis. Last night, he gave up the pretense and illegally rammed the legislation through the Senate on the pretense that it had no fiscal effects. So the issue is not if the Governor lied but when he was lying 3 weeks ago or now. Plowman is lying in the same way. This proposal has nothing to do with college students raising money for college.
So finding their supporters telling similiar lies is not a surprise. " Government can not create jobs .." an obvious lie. Government does create jobs. How about Governor for one. "stay out of the way of FREE ENTERPRISE and control the regulations to that which is reasonable(ie,safety,pollution control and etc....).." The whole point is what's reasonable? 50 years ago pollution wasn't on the list. Government's minimum job responsiblity is to create markets that function well (set prices based on supply and demand for example). Free enterprise does not exist without government establishing the markets. Its business' responsibility to conform their activities to the rules government creates. Instead they lobby to empoverish working people, deny their children an education, and to make society bare the burden of their irresponsibility.


So much for putting value on kids' education

The law was enacted because the focus of high schoolers should be on education, not providing cheap labor for the business community. When I was in school 55 years ago, we had to have a certificate from the principal saying our grades were good and work wouldn't interfere plus we were restricted to 20 hours just to make sure.

I was correct when I told one LePage acolyte right after his "landslide victory" that he would try to take Maine back to 1911, I just didn't realize how much of a hurry he was in to do that and wonder if 1890 might not be a goal.

This proposal dovetails perfectly with restaurant owners wanting to keep and - if they feel up to it - distribute the tips their sub minimum wage wait staff earns through giving good service. The lower than minimum wage is justified by - tadaaaa - tips.

The rationale for that venal bill was that a waitress wouldn't know how to handle the money she earned.

Terry Donald's picture

Not again!

Another law, written by large business interests in the state to benefit their personal pocket books.
Here's the way it works, as it is now teens can legally work just 20 hours in a five day week. Teens are in general the lowest paid in our workforce. Minimum wage is the norm, adults generally demand at least a little more than the minimum and can work as many hours as they please. So the bottom line, and the payroll savings for mr and mrs big business comes in by letting teens work more hours at the lowest possible wage, and that will take away those more expensive hours from the adult working population.
Ask Mr LePage 2 questions, how will this create more jobs in Maine? How will thise make life better for Mainers?


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