Casey introduces legislation to protect children from unsafe work violations

Bob Casey

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa), arrives in the Senate subway for a vote in the Capitol on Tuesday, May 2, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

By Sean Kitchen

October 30, 2023

“Children do not belong in factories or working during hours when they should be studying, spending time with their families, or simply being children. Yet too many bad actors get away with forcing kids to work long hours and under dangerous conditions,” Sen. Bob Casey said in a statement.

Child labor violations have almost doubled since 2019 according to a recent report by the US Dept. of Labor (DOL).

The report by the DOL stated that there were 955 child labor violations for the 2023 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30. It was the highest number of violations for any year in the past 15 years and it discovered close to 5,800 children were employed in violation of the law.

Employers found in violation of federal child labor laws were fined a little more than $8 million in penalties, which was an 83% increase compared to the previous year.

In February, the DOL announced one of their largest child labor violations in the department’s history and issued a $1.5 million penalty against Packers Sanitation Services. The company provides cleaning services for companies such as Tyson, JBS and Turkey Valley Farms and they were fined for employing more than 100 using harsh chemicals to clean dangerous equipment.

US Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania), along with US Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and US Rep. Rosa DeLaruo (D-CT), introduced the Children Harmed in Life-threatening or Dangerous(CHILD) Labor Act last week that would crack down on exploitative child labor practices and hold companies who take advantage of children accountable.

“Children do not belong in factories or working during hours when they should be studying, spending time with their families, or simply being children. Yet too many bad actors get away with forcing kids to work long hours and under dangerous conditions,” Casey said in a statement.

“It is long past time we bring our child labor laws into the 21st century and fight back against the employers, contractors, and subcontractors that violate them.”

The legislation introduced by Casey, Murray and DeLaruo would hold contractors and subcontractors liable for child labor violations in the same manner as the employer who employs the child labor, increase the penalty for child labor violations from $11,000 to $151,380 and require any person who violates child labor laws to be fined at least $75,000 for child.

As is the case on the federal level, Pennsylvania hasn’t been immune to the rise in reports of child labor violations at the state level.

From the beginning of the year through Labor Day, there were 403 child labor investigations compared to 107 cases during the same time period in the previous year, or a 267% increase, according to the PEnnsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (L&I).

L&I Secretary Nancy Walker, at the time, called it a “concerning trend,” and reminded the public that the department takes all potential violations seriously.

“While we can only speculate on the reason for such a surge in child labor cases, this is a concerning trend involving Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable workers,” Walker said. She continued “I want teens, parents, school employees, co-workers, local law enforcement and the general public to know that L&I investigates all potential violations of the Child Labor Act.”

Republicans in Iowa rolled back child labor protections earlier this year. According to the Iowa Starting Line, the new law would allow children to work in more occupations for longer hours and remove most restrictions if a child is employed under a work-based learning program.

Seema Nanda, the DOL’s Solicitor of Labor, sent a letter to Democratic leaders in the Iowa Senate stating that some provisions of the law were inconsistent with federal child labor law and that “the Department has broad authority to enforce child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.”

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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