Florida Sen. Corey Simon, a Republican from Tallahassee, has filed a bill that would alter a part of the state’s child labor laws to allow older teens to work in roofing and construction, adding to a growing trend of child labor law rollbacks being proposed in state legislatures across the country, including a separate bill (HB 49) filed by Florida House Republican Linda Chaney in September.
Under existing state and federal law, people under the age of 18 are prohibited from being employed in certain jobs that have been deemed dangerous for younger workers, including meatpacking, mining, demolition work and working on any scaffolding, roofs or ladders more than six feet off the ground.
According to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, these “prohibited occupations” for minors have been determined, under decades-old regulations, to be “dangerous to the health and safety of minors.”
A new bill filed by Simon, a first-term state senator and former NFL football player, would change that. The Tallahassee Republican’s proposal would amend Florida’s child labor regulations, allowing 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds to work in roofing, scaffolding, and in residential and nonresidential construction.
That revision, blasted by some critics as a way to fill a labor shortage caused by a crackdown on employing undocumented workers, is folded into a broader proposal to enhance career and technical education for youth, like some kind of poison pill (we’ve seen that one before).
“It is commendable that the state is prioritizing increasing skilled trades in the Sunshine State, but it should not come at the expense of children’s health and safety,” wrote Sadaf Knight, CEO of the Florida Policy Institute, in a statement. “In an industry like construction where tight deadlines and safety risks abound, Florida must not expose teens to added dangers — especially when there is no guarantee that a supervisor will be able to ensure that child’s well-being when they are up on a ladder or roof on the job site.”
Under Simon’s proposal, 16- and 17-year-olds would be allowed to work in roofing and construction, provided they’ve undergone a 10-hour training course from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration for OSHA certification. They would also need to work under the direct supervision of someone who is at least 21 years old and also has received OSHA 10 certification.
According to the most recent federal data, however, there is only one direct supervisor in Florida available for every seven construction and extraction workers.
Putting minors to work in violation of Florida child labor law can make an employer subject to fines up to $2,500 per offense, according to state regulators. Violations are also a second-degree misdemeanor. The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which fields complaints of child labor violations, did not return our request for clarification on their process of enforcement, so it’s unclear whether anyone who breaks these rules is actually being penalized.
This latest proposal from Simon, a member of the Florida Children & Youth Cabinet, comes amid a steep rise in child labor violations across the country. The number of minors working in violation of child labor law has spiked 88% since 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Child labor violations in recent years were most commonly found in the restaurant, retail, construction and amusement industries, according to the department. In the Southeast, youth have also been illegally employed in auto manufacturing and meat processing industries.
“It is commendable that the state is prioritizing increasing skilled trades in the Sunshine State, but it should not come at the expense of children’s health and safety”
It’s also a problem close to home. Over $100,000 in fines have been issued to Florida businesses — based in the Tampa Bay area to Lake Mary to Jacksonville — on account of child labor law violations in 2023 alone, according to the U.S. labor department.
A local roofing contractor in Lake Mary was fined over $50,000 in child labor penalties after a 15-year-old they employed fell 20 feet from a home in Orlando last year, suffering severe head and spinal injuries. The contractor, JGN Services, also allowed the 15-year-old to work more than three hours on school days and more than 18 hours during school weeks, in violation of child labor law.
The injured boy was one of 688 minors federal investigators found employed in hazardous jobs in the U.S. from Oct. 1, 2021, to Sept. 30, 2022.
A federal investigation in 2021 similarly found that an Orlando-based landscaper, Sunscape LLC, had violated child labor requirements by employing two 17-year-olds and one 13-year-old to operate a forklift.
A Winter Park bakery formerly known as Bread & Co. illegally engaged a 13-year-old as an unpaid volunteer and risked the child’s safety by allowing them to operate a power-driven bread slicer, a federal investigation last year found. The bakery now operates under a different name, Tous les Jours, a franchise on Fairbanks Avenue.
According to the Economic Policy institute, Florida is at least the 16th state to try and relax or roll back child labor regulations over the last couple of years. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican who recently endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for president, signed a highly controversial bill into law earlier this year that similarly relaxes regulations on putting minors to work in hazardous jobs, in conflict with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
“The provisions of Iowa’s child labor law … appear to be inconsistent with federal child labor law,” representatives of the U.S. Department of Labor wrote in an August letter to Iowa Democratic lawmakers.
Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda and Wage and Hour Division Principal Deputy Administrator Jessica Looman confirmed that, where provisions of state child labor law are less protective than provisions under the Fair Labor Standards Act, “a FLSA-covered employer must follow the more protective provisions of the FLSA.”
“The [federal] Department has broad authority to enforce the child labor provisions of the FLSA,” Nanda and Looman continued. “FLSA-covered employers that violate federal child labor law are subject to various penalties, including civil money penalties, which depend on the nature of the violations and the underlying factual circumstances.”
There are exceptions to federal and state child labor laws. State law exempts jobs inside private homes like babysitting, and jobs where minors are employed by their parents. Under federal law, children who work in newspaper delivery and child actors who work in TV, radio, film, or theatrical productions are also exempted, in addition to other partial exceptions for student learners and youth apprentices.
Sen. Simon’s office did not respond to Orlando Weekly’s request for comment on this bill, which was filed less than a week after Orlando Weekly and More Perfect Union reported that a conservative think tank, the Foundation for Government Accountability, wrote a different Florida bill that would also roll back certain child labor protections.
House Bill 49, filed by St. Pete Beach Republican Linda Chaney, would allow 16- and 17-year-olds in Florida to work the same schedules as adults — including overnight shifts on school nights.
Child advocates have blasted similar child labor rollbacks introduced or passed in other states, arguing that minors could be more vulnerable to wage theft (a problem Florida doesn’t sufficiently address) and other forms of exploitation. Working more than 20 hours per week during the school year, which would be legalized under HB 49, can also disrupt academic performance and increase the risk for behavioral problems, like drug use or skipping school.
At least nine bills in the U.S. designed to weaken child labor protections have been signed into law over the last two years, many of which are also tied to the FGA, a billionaire-backed group based in Naples, Florida.
But the FGA isn’t acting alone. Proposed child labor rollbacks in other states have also been supported by chambers of commerce and the National Restaurant Association, a powerful trade group that represents businesses like McDonald’s, Burger King and the Walt Disney Company. The NRA’s state affiliate in Florida is the Florida Lodging & Restaurant Association, which spearheaded a campaign to block the passage of a $15 minimum wage amendment passed by nearly 61% of Florida voters in 2020.
Many Republicans and business leaders have disparaged child labor restrictions as government overreach. They’ve tried to pitch child labor as a way to help fill labor shortages. A list of talking points provided by the FGA in defense of Chaney’s child labor bill emphasizes giving youth the “flexibility” and “freedom” to work longer hours.
DeSantis, who’s currently vying to become the Republican nominee for U.S. President, also has ties to the conservative Foundation for Government Accountability that’s spearheaded child labor rollbacks in states like Iowa and Arkansas through its lobbying arm, the Opportunity Solutions Project.
The presidential hopeful has received over $2 million in campaign donations over the last five years from the FGA’s largest funder, Richard “Dick” Uihlen, who’s already contributed $1 million to DeSantis’ presidential super-PAC Never Back Down.
Orlando Weekly has not been able to confirm yet whether the FGA’s Opportunity Solutions Project was involved with the development of Florida Sen. Simon’s Senate Bill 460. Stay tuned.
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