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child labor

The Trump administration could walk back laws designed to protect teenage workers

The Trump administration is preparing to walk back child labor laws that are intended to protect teenage workers, Bloomberg Law reports. The proposal, which concerns dangerous work like "roofing ... operating chainsaws, and various other power-driven machines," would potentially allow 16- and 17-year-old apprentices and students to work full days under supervision. The law as it stands now only gives limited exemptions to minors to do that kind of work, with it typically limited to less than an hour a day.

"When I started doing this kind of work 20 years ago, we were losing 70 kids a year at work, and now we are losing usually 20 or less," said one opponent of the Labor Department's proposal, Reid Maki of the Child Labor Coalition. He added: "I would not be in favor of relaxing any of these standards; I think it would be a tragic mistake and would lead to the death of teenage workers."

President Trump has pushed for expanding apprenticeship programs, and his Labor Department argues that allowing 16- and 17-year-old students to perform such tasks under careful supervision gives them job opportunities, especially in cases where the teens are not on the path to attend a university. "We'd rather that they learn to use equipment the right way when they're 17 than use it for the first time when they're 18," explained Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. At least one Democrat, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), appears to also support the proposal to relax laws around underage workers.

Michael Hancock, formerly of the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division, was skeptical that the WHD's 900-or-so employees would sufficiently be able to oversee teen workers. "When you find 16-year-olds running a meat slicer or a mini grinder or a trash compactor, we know kids are severely injured in those circumstances," he told Bloomberg Law. "That's why the laws exist in the first place."