-- Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., dissenting in Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918)
Today’s Republican Party strongly disagrees with Justice Holmes. Not satisfied with trampling upon the rights of Americans to be safe from gun violence, vote, choose whom to love, read what they wish, learn history as it really was, identify themselves gender-wise, and control their own bodies, the party is now zeroing in on child labor. Both the Washington Post and NBC News have run recent stories uncovering shocking violations of child labor laws, including young teenagers working night shifts cleaning up floors overflowing with blood and gore at meat packing plants, then having to attend school when their shifts ended.
Abhorrence of such illegal practices, however, is not part of the Republican playbook. On the contrary, a number of states, assisted by a Florida outfit with the misleading name, “The Foundation for Government Accountability,” are pushing legislation to wipe out child workplace protections.
The federal government regulates child labor with respect to businesses operating in interstate commerce. However, for companies that do business only within a state, federal regulations do not apply. Nevertheless, in the 80+ years since the Supreme Court upheld federal authority to regulate child labor, virtually every state has followed suit and promulgated similar, common-sense laws and regulations.
Republicans want to roll back these state protections. Arkansas, led by former Trump mouthpiece, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has a new law that eliminates work permits and age verification for workers younger than 16. Iowa legislators this month voted to allow 14 year-olds to work night shifts and 15 year-olds to work on assembly lines. Missouri, Ohio, Georgia and Minnesota are also considering similar appalling legislation. The Foundation for Government Accountability has found state GOP lawmakers to be a receptive audience for its efforts to turn the clock back to the 19th century and bring back the worst abuses of the Industrial Revolution.
I wish I could say that I am shocked by this level of Republican viciousness. But then, this is the same party/cult for which contempt for humanity has become central to its existence. This is an organization that has demonstrated time-and-time again that it values human life only until the moment of birth, after which babies and children must fend for themselves. I would expect nothing more from folks who confirm every day that guns merit higher levels of protection than school children.
Moreover, promoting child labor is also consistent with Republican contempt for education and the pursuit of knowledge. They would rather have kids toiling away in dangerous jobs than learning.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports a 69 percent increase in minors employed in violation of federal law since 2018. Republicans cheer this statistic.
This movement is cloaked in the language of “parental rights” that Republicans have successfully marketed in their quest to cleanse public education, rewrite American history and ban books the hard right deems offensive. They argue that decisions about children working should be ones that parents make, not government.
An extremely tight labor market encourages employers to turn to younger, cheaper workers rather than attract experienced workers with wage and other incentives. These child labor bills speak to that yearning. Among child laborers, undocumented minors who come to the U.S. without their parents are most at risk. These bills embolden unscrupulous employers seeking to exploit this extremely vulnerable population. One would think that a party so firmly anti-immigration would be ashamed by the hypocrisy inherent in relaxing child labor restrictions so that more undocumented immigrant children can be oppressed. But shame is not a Republican attribute.
Enabling employers to hire children for dangerous jobs is immoral and should be illegal. Sadly, this latest example of Republican callousness is par for the course for a political party that has completely lost its way along with any regard for decency and humanity.
April 28, 2023