Thursday, January 01, 2004

Are virtually all high school students to be precluded from working for pay?

There is a a horrible new bill before the House of Representatives titled the "Youth Worker Protection Act," HR3139. If it makes its way through Congress, I believe we're about to see virtually all students under 18 become wholly unemployable.

Am I overreacting? Consider just a few of the most egregious provisions of the bill:

* Outlaw the use of riding lawn mowers for purposes of earning income by all youths under 18 who have yet to graduate from high school.

* Outlaw the use in an employment context of ladders over 6 feet tall by youths under 18.

* Outlaw any handling of fat used in deep fat fryers--whether the fat is hot or cold, it does not matter--by youths under 18.

* Potentially outlaw the employment of anyone under 18 years old in ANY place of employment where any of the above-mentioned equipment or materials may be located.

* Outlaw all "youth peddling" (i.e., going door-to-door for any sales purpose if you're under 18 years old) unless selling newspapers or soliciting in behalf of a nonprofit organization).

. . . And so forth.

Oh! And if you attend a private school or you're homeschooled: guess who controls your employability? Yes: your local public school district!

Does it surprise you to hear that the NEA (National Education Association), AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations), and other such organizations are all proud of this legislation?

Right now the bill is "in committee" (Committee on Education and the Workforce and, more especially, the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections). However, since no public hearings are planned, it could come out of committee at any moment once Congress is back in session beginning January 20th. I believe, if we want our younger children to have any opportunity to get jobs before they are 18, we may need to raise a hue and cry. . . .

Please confirm each of my following points by looking at the original documents. You can find them in the last link ("Text of Legislation") at There's a PDF version (upper left) and an HTML version (upper right). Am I reading the bill correctly?

Section 201(3) requires all minors to get government-sponsored work permits. Section 203(b)(3) specifies that the form shall include, "In the case of a school-age minor, a certification by a school official that the official has informed the minor of school attendance requirements and has given the minor a written summary of those requirements" and Section 203(e) continues, "A work permit that is issued when school is not in session shall be subject to certification under subsection (b)(3) not later than 30 days after school resumes. If the minor does not obtain certification during that period, the permit shall be suspended until the certification is obtained. As used in this subsection, the term 'in session' has the meaning given that term under the law applicable to the school district in which the minor involved lives." [Put another way: your local public school is the de facto permitting agency. Your homeschooled child, if s/he wants to work before s/he reaches the age of 18, will now be required to get the local public school's permission. Put another way: your child's ability to hold a job will be wholly at the discretion of your local public school district and its schedule.]

Section 209 defines the term "minor" as "an individual who is under the age of 18 years." And it defines a "school-age minor" as "a minor who, as determined under the law applicable to the school district in which the minor lives, has not earned a high school diploma or other document of equivalent or greater status."

Section 204 prohibits an employer from "permit[ting] a school-age minor to work during school hours. . . . As used in this section, the terms 'school hours', 'school day', and 'in session', respectively, have the meanings given those terms under the law applicable to the school district in which the minor involved lives." [Placing upon the employer the necessity to uphold the monopoly status of the local public schools and the local public schools' schedules.]

Section 207 prohibits "Youth Peddling." In a new proposed "Title I--Fair Labor Standards," Sec. 106 defines the term:
'Youth peddling' means sale of goods or services by a minor in a public place . . . , at the residence of the customer, at the place of business of the customer, or from a vehicle, except that such term does not include--
(1) newspaper delivery . . . ;

(2) sale of goods or services at a fixed retail location; or

(3) sale of goods or services on behalf of an organization that is described in section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and is exempt from taxation under section 501(a) of such Code, if the minor is a volunteer and does not receive compensation for the sale.
[Hmmm! Mom had better not begin a business like Ralph Moody's mom did in Little Britches (or was it Man of the Family?)! . . . Notice, however, that, despite the "dangers" this law is supposed to protect kids from, it permits use of children by public schools and other non-profit organizations to achieve their ends. Kids "simply" can't go ahead and engage in pecuniary pursuits for their own or their family's benefit. . . . ]

Besides the new "Title I," this bill also seeks to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. 201 et seq.) by inserting several "Miscellaneous Provisions" in "Title II." For example:

Section 201 states that "Not later than 24 months after the date of the enactment of this section, the Secretary of Labor shall promulgate a rule . . . that . . . in the application and enforcement of the child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. 201 et seq.), . . . (1) the occupations that are the subjects of recommendations pertaining to current hazardous orders, as stated in part IV of the report entitled `National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Recommendations to the U.S. Department of Labor for Changes to Hazardous Orders', dated May 3, 2002; and (2) the occupations that are the subjects of recommendations for new hazardous orders, as stated in part V of that report . . . [are] particularly hazardous for the employment of children between the ages of 16 and 18 years or detrimental to their health or well-being, within the meaning of section 3(l)(2) of that Act (29 U.S.C. 203(l)(2))." [I will quote from the NIOSH report below.]

Section 201(d) includes the following specific rules:
(1) . . . the rule may not provide for employment of children between the ages of 16 and 18 years in the operation of power-driven meat and food slicers in the wholesale, retail, or services industry;

(2) the rule may not allow for the operation of counter-top models of power-driven bakery machines, as proposed in the part IV recommendation HO 11 for Non-Agricultural Occupations. . . .
[I guess a bread slicer is too dangerous for a young person.]

But pay special attention to paragraphs 1) and 2) on page 42 of the NIOSH regulations referenced above (p. 64 within the
NIOSH PDF), where the authors suggest, with respect to HO 10:
1) . . . Revising this HO to apply to specific industries instead of occupations or tasks would greatly simplify compliance and enforcement of the HO, and may be a more effective way of protecting youth. The current HO prohibits seven specific types of work associated with meat slaughtering and processing, and may not be all-inclusive of tasks and activities with serious injury and health risks in these industries.

2) Although the title of HO 10 implies that it is limited to meat processing machines, this HO actually includes all occupations involved in the operation, feeding, set-up, adjusting, repairing, oiling, or cleaning of numerous power-driven food processing machines, regardless of the product being processed (including, for example, the slicing in a retail delicatessen of meat, poultry, seafood, bread, vegetables, or cheese). Machines covered include meat and bone cutting saws, meat slicers, and grinders. Available data demonstrate that some types of food processing machines, specifically grinders and juice, oil and fat extractors, are associated with serious injuries, including amputations. Although data show high numbers of injuries associated with power-driven slicers, the injuries appear to be relatively minor. This finding supports the revision of the HO to allow operation of slicers in the retail, wholesale and services industries. [Emphasis added; JAH]

On the other hand, note 3 does say, "A student learner/apprenticeship exemption is recommended for the use of meat processing machines in non-manufacturing settings. Compared with meat processing machines used in manufacturing, those used in settings such as retail establishments are smaller, less complex machines. Hazards associated with these machines are generally limited to the machines themselves, and may be reduced through worker training and proper guarding and maintenance." . . . So maybe there's hope yet!

Section 203:
Not later than 24 months after the date of the enactment of this section, the Secretary of Labor shall promulgate a rule, under section 553 of title 5, United States Code, to prohibit employment of minors in the following activities:

(1) Seafood processing.

(2) Employment requiring a minor to handle or dispose of oil or other liquids from fryers.

[Hmmm! Might this affect employment in a McDonald's (for instance)? . . . Remember notes 1 and 2 on p. 42 in the NIOSH document!]

Of course, you and I are supposed to believe that all these rules have nothing but our children's welfare in mind!


Remember that Section 201 states that "the Secretary of Labor shall promulgate a rule . . . that . . . the occupations that are the subjects of recommendations pertaining to current hazardous orders, as stated in part IV of the [NIOSH] report . . . and (2) the occupations that are the subjects of recommendations for new hazardous orders, as stated in part V of that report . . . [are] particularly hazardous for the employment of children between the ages of 16 and 18 years."

So let's see what the NIOSH report has to say.

You can find the entire report online at

From the Preamble:
Our society places special value on young people and has adopted various social policies, including protection from hazardous working conditions. Implicit in these policies is the belief that youth should not be exposed to the same risks as adults. "The vulnerable, formative, and malleable nature of childhood and adolescence requires a higher standard of protection for young workers than that accorded to adult workers" [NRC/IOM 1998]. Recommendations made in this report are consistent with the DOL commitment to facilitate meaningful employment and training opportunities while protecting youth from the most hazardous work activities. (p. 15)

Let us see how well this "balance" is maintained. Consider the following proposed "Recommendations for New Hazardous Orders" (Section V, beginning at p. 99; emphasis added; I will emphasize modified hazardous orders that are already in place below these new recommended orders). It appears that Hazardous Orders (HOs) mean, essentially, "no youths shall be employed in such tasks" (see Section 201(4) of this bill: "In the case of a minor who is between the ages of 16 and 18 years, the employment is not in an occupation that is particularly hazardous for the employment of children between those ages or detrimental to their health or well-being, within the meaning of section 3(l)(2)."
  • "Establish a new HO for work in commercial fishing occupations. An apprentice/student learner exemption is not recommended" (p. 99).
  • "Establish a new HO prohibiting all work in construction occupations. . . . An apprentice/student learner exemption is not recommended" (p. 101).
  • "Establish a new HO prohibiting work in refuse collection. An apprentice/student learner exemption is not recommended" (p. 106).
  • "Establish a new HO prohibiting work in water transportation industries. No apprentice/student learner exemption is recommended" (p. 108).
  • "Establish a new HO prohibiting work in the farm-product raw materials wholesale trade industry (SIC 515). No apprentice/student learner exemption is recommended" (p. 112").
  • "Establish a new HO for nonagricultural occupations prohibiting work at a height of 6 feet or more from ladders; scaffolds; trees; and structures . . . and machinery. An apprentice/student learner exemption is not recommended" (p. 114; put another way: forget any painting jobs for young people under 18 years of age that require use of ladders; or employment at a place like Home Depot, Costco, Old Navy, etc.--in other words, just about any retail establishment--where they have those stepladder appliances to get materials from upper shelves).
  • "Establish a new HO for nonagricultural industries prohibiting operating a tractor or connecting or disconnecting an implement or any of its parts to or from such a tractor. An apprentice/student learner exemption is justified, with the condition that tractors must be equipped with ROPS and seat belt use mandated" (p. 119; "tractor" seems clearly to include riding lawnmowers).
  • "Establish a new HO for nonagricultural industries prohibiting work in welding" (p. 124).
  • "Establish a new HO for nonagricultural industries prohibiting work involving powered conveyors in manufacturing. The HO should cover operation, repair, and maintenance of conveyors, as well as cleanup duties in the vicinity of conveyors that are in operation or energized. No apprentice/student learner exemption is recommended" (p. 130; I hope warehouses won't be included in the definition of "manufacturing," otherwise Sonlight won't be able to hire any more high school or first-year college students to work in its warehouse; we have slow-moving power conveyors to help move materials from our ground floor to a mezzanine storage area (and back again); we also have powered roller conveyors to move packed boxes from the packing stations to the shipping area. . . . So this equipment that we purchased to REDUCE injury may actually preclude us from hiring young people!).
And here are the recommended modifications to HOs that are already on the books:

HO 16 (non-agricultural): Occupations in Roofing Operations

Recommendation — 1) Expand current HO to include all work performed on roofs. The HO should not be limited solely to roofing operations that involve construction, maintenance, and repair of roofs. 2) Remove the exemption for apprentices/student learners. (See pp. 60ff)

HO 1 (agricultural): Operating a Tractor Over 20 PTO Horsepower or Connecting or Disconnecting an Implement or Any of Its Parts To or from Such a Tractor.

Recommendation — 1) Retain the HO with the removal of the 20 PTO (power take-off) horsepower threshold. 2) Revise exemption for 14- and 15-year-olds with tractor certification to require tractors to be equipped with a rollover protective structure (ROPS) and mandate the use of seatbelts.

Rationale — 1) Tractor-related fatalities have been the leading source of work-related farming deaths in the U.S. for many years. Available data sources frequently do not include enough detail to determine the horsepower of tractors or PTOs involved in fatal and non-fatal injuries. Additionally, PTO horsepower differs from tractor engine horsepower and may be difficult to identify by Wage and Hour inspectors, employers, supervisors and youth workers. Furthermore, available data do not support the notion that a tractor’s horsepower (engine or PTO) is related to risk of injury. Therefore, the current 20 horsepower PTO requirement should be eliminated. 2) A ROPS, when used in conjunction with a seatbelt, is the most important safety feature on a tractor in reducing the number of deaths from overturns. This engineering safety measure, in addition to tractor safety training and mandated seatbelt use, should be an effective means of preventing a substantial number of tractor-related injuries and fatalities among young workers. (See pp. 67ff)

HO 2 (agricultural): Operating or assisting to operate (including starting, stopping, adjusting, feeding or any other activity involving physical contact associated with the operation) any of the following machines:

i) Corn picker, cotton picker, grain combine, hay mower, . . . ;

ii) Feed grinder, crop dryer, forage blower, . . . or

iii) Power post-hole digger, power post driver, or nonwalking-type rotary tiller.

HO 3: Operating or assisting to operate . . . any of the following machines:

i) Trencher or earthmoving equipment;

ii) Fork lift;

iii) . . .

Recommendation – Combine HO 2 and HO 3, and expand prohibition from lists of specific machines to machines that perform general functions (e.g. harvesting and threshing machinery; mowing machinery; . . . and, mobile equipment, including forklifts) following the terminology used in current coding systems. (See pp. 72ff; does this mean no one under the age of 18 will be permitted to do lawn mowing, using a power lawn mower? I note that Table 21 "Fatal Injuries to Agricultural Production Workers Associated with Agricultural and Garden Machinery, United States" on p. 73 specifically includes injuries due not only to "Mowing machinery, unspecified" but "Lawn mowers – riding.")

HO 6: Working from a Ladder or Scaffold (Painting, Repairing, or Building Structures, Pruning Trees, Picking Fruit, etc.) at a Height of Over 20 Feet.

Recommendation – . . . Reduce the maximum height at which youth under 16 may work in these settings from 20 feet to 6 feet.

Rationale – . . . Available fatality data for workers of all ages suggest that permitting youth to work at heights of up to 20 feet is not sufficiently protective. . . . (See pp. 79ff; does this mean no one under the age of 16 will be permitted to paint a house at a height greater than 6 feet? Will parents who involve their children in such tasks be subject to charges of child abuse?)

Questions: Do you think all these rules are REALLY for the protection of young people? Or are they primarily for the benefit of union members? And . . . if these jobs are truly too dangerous, when and where and how will any 18-year-old gain the experience s/he requires so that s/he doesn't get injured on the job?

So what should you and I do about these things?
  • Pray.
  • Write to or call your congressperson to get rid of the offending provisions.
  • Go back to the first page I referenced above ( Click on the "Cosponsors" link and write to or call the committee people along the same lines.

Two key contact persons:
The Honorable Charlie Norwood
Chairman, Workforce Protection Subcommittee
Room 2452 Rayburn House Office Bldg
Washington, DC 20515


The Honorable John Boehner
Chairman, Committee on Education & the Workforce
Room 2181 Rayburn House Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20515

Some potentially unfamiliar acronyms:

  • BLS = Bureau of Labor Standards.
  • DOL = Department of Labor.
  • FTEs = Full-time equivalents (i.e., 40-hour weeks; explanation: lots of kids work only 10 or 20 hours per week; a full-time equivalent is 40 hours per week; thus, while four kids may be employed at 10 hours each, the four, together, equal only one FTE).
  • HOs = "Hazardous Orders" (government regulations concerning occupations and tasks that the government has determined are especially hazardous).
  • ROPS = "Roll-over protection structure" (a full "roll cage" to protect the driver/occupant of a vehicle in case the vehicle flips over).
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