By Rep. Mark Bryant
April 6, 2011
While most of the attention on Augusta these days is less about policy making and more about petty distractions, many important pieces of legislation are being vetted and debated. The commotion with the artwork in a state building is taking up more airtime then some very important labor related bills that are frankly quite concerning.
There are two bills in particular being considered by the legislature that would roll back child labor standards by decades. The measures would lower the wage paid to minors to $2 below the minimum wage and increase the amount of hours teenagers could work during the school week.
One measure, LD 1346, establishes a “training wage” for students under 20 years of age at $5.25 per hour for their first 180 days of employment and increases the amount of hours minors can work.
As a father, this really bothers me. Any teenager or young adult could be stuck in the training phase and therefore stuck at the training wage if they take a different job each summer. Summer time is when kids are working hard to save money for college and other expenses. I know many students that work during the summer so they can focus on school when the fall arrives and work fewer or no hours while they are a studying. There is also concern that an employer could fire their teen employees just before their training wage time expires as a cost saving measure. That is unfair to hardworking kids in line for a raise.
One mom commented to me that she pays her young teen babysitter more than $5.25 per hour. And that wage will not even buy two gallons of gas right now!
The other measure, LD 516, would increase the amount of hours 16 and 17-year olds could work during the school week from 20 to 24 hours and extend the time they could work on a school night to 11 p.m. Recently, the Labor Committee split along partisan lines by a 7-6 vote to change the law, with Democrats voting against the measure.
The last thing a student needs is longer night shifts. Kids already go to school tired and unprepared for the day. As parents, our goal is to ensure we help our kids become productive members of society and that means finishing school in good standing is a necessary goal.
I am troubled by this attempt to change the way we treat and view our young workforce. These roll backs could also affect Maine’s workforce as a whole; if employers opt for the less expensive “training wage” teen who can now work longer hours, over the single mom looking for a job. With record unemployment, our focus should be on making sure parents have jobs first – not creating a cheap child labor pool.
I’ll be watching these bills as they come before the full House and Senate. I hope you speak out if these measures concern you. Please contact me with questions on this or any other state matter.
As always, I’m very interested in doing whatever I can to assist people with state government and listening to your thoughts on other pending legislation. Please feel free to call me at home at 892-6591, or e-mail me at Rep. Bryant.