WASHINGTON — Top Democrats on the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee are urging Republican Chair Virginia Foxx of North Carolina to hold a hearing this month on the uptick in child labor violations.
Democratic Reps. Bobby Scott of Virginia, the ranking member of the committee, and Alma Adams of North Carolina, the ranking member of a panel on workplace safety, outlined their concerns that the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has shown “a near quadrupling of the number of children involved in child labor violations since 2015.”
“This surge in child labor violations is happening while WHD has had steadily decreasing resources to invest in enforcement,” the lawmakers wrote in a June 6 letter.
During fiscal 2022, there were 835 companies that employed more than 3,800 children in violation of labor laws, according to data from the Wage and Hour Division. That’s an increase from fiscal 2015, when 542 companies employed more than 1,000 children in violation of labor laws.
Scott and Adams are asking for a hearing so that members of the committee can understand the “scope of the child labor problem confronting the country and the legislative solutions to address it.”
In a statement to States Newsroom, Foxx said Democrats’ request for a hearing is “all for show,” and that Republicans on the committee grilled Acting DOL Secretary Julie Su on Wednesday about reports on child labor violations for migrant children. Su has been nominated by President Joe Biden as labor secretary.
Foxx said the issue will likely come up again when Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra testifies before the committee on June 13.
“DOL needs to answer for a 37 percent increase in child labor violations in the previous year alone,” she said.
“When you weigh the seriousness of Committee Democrats’ request for a hearing on child labor violations, consider this: they spent four hours sitting in a room with Acting Secretary Su and not once did they ask a pointed question about the DOL’s failure to address this problem,” Foxx continued. “Why would we expect their hearing to be any different?”
Legislation in the states
Multiple states have either passed or introduced legislation to roll back child labor laws, a push that’s come from businesses and conservative lawmakers, States Newsroom has reported. A recent federal investigation found a McDonald’s in Kentucky had children as young as 10 working past midnight and operating deep fryers.
Republicans and Democrats on the U.S. House Oversight & Accountability Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs raised concerns during an April hearing about multiple reports on unaccompanied migrant children exploited as workers in U.S. meatpacking plants and elsewhere.
In their letter to Foxx, Scott and Adams added that Democrats are working on their own piece of legislation “to toughen penalties for child labor violations and unsafe workplaces that harm children, expand research and expertise on these issues, update standards about occupations too hazardous for the employment of children, and track the statistics on the scope of child labor violations.”
They quoted the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a 1937 message to Congress asking for passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which was enacted and regulates child labor in the United States: “A self-supporting and self-respecting democracy can plead no justification for the existence of child labor.”
Scott and Adams added: “Nevertheless, as we near the 85th anniversary of that landmark law later this month, the ‘existence of child labor’ still looms large.”