Iowa’s new Child Labor Law ‘inconsistent’ with federal law

Regulators say Iowa's new youth employment law may be in violation of federal child labor laws.
Published: Sep. 1, 2023 at 9:27 AM CDT
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DES MOINES, Iowa (KCRG) - The U.S. Department of Labor sent a letter to Iowa Democrats confirming the state’s new child labor law Governor Kim Reynolds signed in May goes against federal child labor law.

Iowa Democrats sent a letter back to the U.S. Department of Labor voicing their concerns on the law, which eased restrictions on how many hours minors could work, and what types of jobs those could be.

In an August 24th letter in response, officials with the U.S. Department of Labor identified two ways in which the law is “inconsistent” with federal laws:

  • “The Iowa law allows 16- and 17-year-olds to operate dangerous power-driven machines, engage in heavy manufacturing, and work in demolition — all of which are prohibited under federal child-labor laws.”
  • “The new Iowa law also does not require 16- and 17-year-olds working in apprenticeship or student-learner roles to be registered by the U.S. Department of Labor or a state agency, which federal law does require.”

Ultimately, federal law supersedes state law and the letter says the Department of Labor will be watching for violations with the implementation of Iowa’s new law.

Democratic State Representative Sami Scheetz says the law puts children at risk.

“The reason we have federal child labor laws in place is because of the injuries and deaths that resulted from children working in factories, you know, over 100 years ago and to take us back to the 1910s and 20s which is what this bill is taking us in that direction. It’s fundamentally wrong,” Sheetz said.

Sheetz says the reason these restrictions were loosened was because of there aren’t enough people to fill Iowa’s open jobs.

“The reason they passed this is because of a Workforce shortage that the Republican Party in the state created. That’s a simple fact and to have a solution that’s going to put our children in danger is unacceptable,” Sheetz said.

“The child-labor expansion forced into law by Republican politicians and Gov. Reynolds sets a trap for Iowa kids and businesses alike,” Sen. Nate Boulton (D-Des Moines) said in a news release on Friday. “It makes our kids less safe by exposing them to hazardous environments that could get them injured or even killed—something the legislation itself acknowledged. And now it creates new bureaucratic confusion that can lead employers right into violations of federal law.”

Republicans, though, countered that Democrats and the Biden Administration are misrepresenting Iowa’s laws, noting Democrats help pass changes to the bill during debate.

“If the Biden Administration wants to keep in place their overly restrictive rules that strangle Iowa businesses, then there isn’t anything Iowa House Republicans can do to eliminate those from federal law,” said Iowa House Republican Communications Director Melissa Deatsch. “However, we can ensure that Iowa law is not responsible for unnecessary barriers to young Iowans’ ability to learn valuable life skills, save for their future, and explore possible career paths.”

Iowa Senator Adrian Dickey (R-Jefferson) points out “Iowa Workforce Development’s website already contains a disclaimer alerting employers of the requirements they follow both state and federal employment law.”

Dickey also noted a Des Moines Register Poll showed a slight plurality of Iowans (50% to 42%) supported loosening restrictions on child labor laws to allow teenagers to work longer hours and in previously restricted fields. Support among parents of kids under 18 was slightly higher at 57%.

Not every Iowa business is big enough to be regulated by federal labor law. Regardless, all Iowa businesses have to follow state law.