Promoting to penalizing child labor: Alabama’s evolving stance

From promoting to penalizing child labor: Alabama’s evolving stance

  • Published on
    April 23, 2024
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    Child Slavery
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The “Crimes Against Children Remedy” bill, headed to the Alabama House floor, seeks to increase penalties for employers violating child labor laws. Advocates view this as a positive step forward from the state, which was just recently suggesting the use of minors to fill job vacancies, exploiting their vulnerability, and undercutting labor protections.

With sixteen states that have enacted child labor law rollbacks across the U.S., the surge in child labor is fueled by economic factors, lax child labor laws, and the exploitation of migrant children, highlighting the urgent need for action to protect vulnerable youth from labor abuses and trafficking.

Promoting child labor to “solve labor shortage”

The Alabama Policy Institute’s ‘2024 blueprint for Alabama’ is a significant document published by the right-wing think tank earlier this year. It promotes 30 policy priorities aligned with the trend of increasing child labor law rollbacks across the U.S. to “offer up suggestions out of a pressing need to solve a labor shortage” by “removing barriers for minor work authorization.”

The report strategically points out that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has labeled Alabama as “having among the ‘most severe’ shortages nationwide,” as a convenient way of framing the reality of people being unwilling and unable to work for unlivable wages.

Tyler Walicek from Truthout reported,

If job opening are going unfilled, that should come as little surprise in Alabama, which is one of just five states without a state wage floor. That means its minimum wage defaults to the federal rate: $7.25 an hour.

With the federal wage remaining so pitifully low and decades out of date, it’s no coincidence that, as the API’s proposal notes, “many of these job openings are in the retail and food services industries” – i.e., jobs that pay minimum wage or potentially less.

Waliceck states sarcastically,

“Who better to conscript into the depleted ranks of the workforce than the state surplus 14- and 15-year-olds?”

Setting the stage for child labor law violations in Alabama

Of course, API is suggesting that children are the solution to filling the tight labor market because they are less likely to stand up for their rights and are easily exploited.

Reid Maki, the director of the Child Labor Coalition, told Truthout,

“We oppose any weakening of protections for teen workers. Last year, we saw three 16-year-olds die in occupational accidents. We must not balance a perceived labor shortage on the backs of vulnerable teen workers.”

“Now,” he added, “here comes the Alabama Policy Institute, another conservative think tank, with more horrible, damaging ideas to allow teens who are only 14 and 15 to work greater hours and to remove the state’s school-issued eligibility-to-work permit requirement.”

Bill cracking down on violations heads to Alabama house floor

Even when companies are caught violating child labor laws, the fines are so low that they are inconsequential. Therefore, making the amoral choice to risk the health, safety, well-being, and education of children is “easy and profitable.”

Now, however, a new bill is headed to the Alabama House floor that would increase penalties for employers who violate child labor laws, reports CBS 42. The bill is called “Crimes Against Children Remedy,” and bumps fines from $1,000 to $5,000 for certain violations and would raise some violations to a felony if children are hurt or due while working illegally.

Dev Wakeley, a worker policy advocate for Alabama Arise said,

“This is a step forward to ensure these employees’ safety” and “towards an Alabama that values workers.”

Updates of child labor law rollbacks across the U.S.

Since 2021, 30 states have introduced bills to weaken child labor protections; as of 2024, 16 states have proposed measures to address weak and outdated child labor laws. Currently, the states that have enacted rollbacks are New Hampshire, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, Kentucky, West Virginia, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Atlanta, and Florida.

The surge in child labor can be attributed to rising inflation, weakening state protective laws, and the use of migrant children, who are particularly vulnerable to being exploited and trafficked to work in hazardous jobs as many come to the states unaccompanied and are undocumented. Over 160 million children are engaged in child labor, and nearly half are in hazardous work, including work that involves sexual exploitation.

It is of utmost importance that we pressure states to halt legislation that facilitates the trafficking of working children in the U.S. that disproportionately affects vulnerable migrant children. Add your name to the petition today.

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