Dubuque area leaders say bills expanding child labor a ‘band-aid on gaping wound’

Leaders in Dubuque County also raised concerns about the legislation and held a roundtable to discuss possible solutions. KCRG-TV9's Mollie Swayne reports.
Published: Mar. 25, 2023 at 10:48 PM CDT
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PEOSTA, Iowa (KCRG) - Leaders in Dubuque County are raising concerns about bills in the Iowa House and Senate that would make changes to Iowa’s child labor laws.

Those changes include letting 16- and 17-year-olds serve alcohol, and children as young as 14 could work previously prohibited jobs if part of an approved training program.

At a meeting of Dubuque area leaders at Northeast Iowa Community College on Saturday, State Representative Lindsay James (D-District 99) described the changes as legislators trying “to put a band-aid on a gaping wound.”

However, everyone at the meeting agreed that gaping wound—the lack of workers for local businesses—was a real problem.

“When I got into the apprenticeship in 1992, they interviewed over 100 people. They interviewed for 3 days for 5 spots,” Tom Townsend, business manager of IBEW Local 704, said. “Now we’re interviewing maybe a dozen for 10 spots.”

Those at Saturday’s meeting said the lack of workers needed to be fixed by looking at a number of interconnected problems instead of filling open spots with teens.

“We need to somehow get wages up,” Townsend said. “More access to daycare, more affordable housing, making Dubuque a more attractive place to live.”

One man added that child labor laws existed for a reason.

The Jungle, Upton Sinclair, you know, all that stuff kind of drove that whole movement, and why we have pushed kids out is, number one, to give them a childhood.”

“If people don’t step up and speak out...then I feel afraid for us,” James said.