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States Attempt to Instill ‘Work Ethic’ by Rolling Back Child Labor Protections

11:50 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Spinner in Whitnel, NC (Photo: Lewis Hine)

Cross-posted in The Nation.

It’s been a long time since the engines of American industry were driven by tiny fingers. So when Newt Gingrich recently proclaimed, “Young people ought to learn how to work,” and suggested that children could develop a strong work ethic by working as janitors in their own schools, many Americans probably missed the throwback to the early twentieth century, when hundreds of thousands of children toiled in factories. But after decades of campaigns against youth exploitation, the right is rekindling vestiges of the sweatshop era with legislation aimed at rolling back child labor laws.

While they didn’t go so far as to recruit tweens back to the factory floor, throughout 2011 state legislators pushed bills to erode regulation of youth employment. Maine Republicans sought to ease protections for young workers with amicably named legislation to “Enhance Access to the Workplace by Minors.” The original bill, introduced by State Representative David Burns, would remove some limits on working hours for teenagers and expand the number of days a youth under 20 could work for $5.25 an hour—to about half a year. That would be a bargain for employers, who pay adult Mainers a minimum wage of $7.50. Last summer, a more limited teen labor bill passed, which only eased restrictions on working hours.

Dismissing his bill’s critics in a Press-Herald commentary, Burns argued the purpose was simply to provide job-seeking youth valuable opportunities, since many “have no experience, and perhaps no work ethic, and don’t merit the minimum wage until they learn a job.” As for government safeguards against abuse, he added, “We have usurped the responsibility of families to make intelligent decisions and transferred that responsibility to school officials and the state.” Read the rest of this entry →

Washington’s Anti-Regulatory Crusade, and Why Your Job Hasn’t Killed You Yet

12:42 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Carol Simpson Cartoonwork

Cross-posted from In These Times

On the campaign trail, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry is spreading the gospel of Perrynomics—a magical job-creation formula based on minimal government regulation of industry, combined with tiny tax rates and tight controls on lawsuits. In a state that seems inclined to cannibalize its own government, this agenda plays well. But a closer look reveals the high price of low regulation.

In recent months, politicians in both parties, including the White House, have claimed that scaling back regulations would unleash economic growth, suggesting that businesses should be liberated from rules that protect the environment, occupational health and other public interests. But a new analysis by Public Citizen presents a few unsung gems of federal bureaucracy that help keep us happy, healthy and sane. Several of these regulatory chart-toppers, not surprisingly, were enacted in defiance of heavy political pushback:

Clearing the Air. Since the days of the Lowell mills, so-called “brown lung” has been a hallmark of the miserable toil of poorly ventilated, dust-clogged textile factories. The disease, also known as Byssinosis, has historically hit women especially hard, spreading its signature coughing and lung scarring to thousands of workers around the world. The epidemic was virtually ignored until the 1960s and 1970s. Then came OSHA’s 1978 rule requiring more lung-friendly machinery, and within a few years the prevalence of brown lung in the industry fell by an estimated 97 percent. And employers’ grumbling about the “costs” of the rule faded when it became clear that the reforms improved the industry’s efficiency as well. Read the rest of this entry →