Equal Pay/Fair Wage

GOP's Attack on Child Labor Threatens Our Daughters

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It's Equal Pay Day, a time to remember those 600 extra hours that women work each year to catch up with male wages. For female teens exploitation at work is advancing, as GOP lawmakers in several states try to relax child labor laws.



(WOMENSENEWS)--It's Equal Pay Day, a time to review the reasons why so many hard working women find themselves chronically running short on cash.

Women need to work 15 weeks into 2011 to earn what men earned in 2010. Think about all that work: 40 hours multiplied by 15 weeks. That's 600 hours. On top of that work there's the cooking, cleaning, picking up, dropping off, dressing and bathing.

But this is not news. We've been trying to get paycheck fairness for years.

What's more notable right now is the GOP-led attack on child labor laws that will affect female teens disproportionately.

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Gender disparities in child labor are startling. In the 16-19 age group 176,000 boys in 2010 were paid below the minimum wage, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For girls last year the number was 304,000.

Fully 12 percent of young women, versus 6.9 percent of young men, are already paid sub-minimum wages. These teens mostly work in food preparation or serving, with jobs such as burger flipping, hash slinging, French frying and soda jerking with the highest levels of teen employment and sub-minimum wages.

Republicans in several states (Utah, Ohio, Minnesota, Maine and Missouri) are proposing sweeping changes to child labor legislation, including allowing sub-minimum wages for workers under the age of 20.

At the $5.25 per hour rate proposed by Maine Republicans, young women wouldn't get to equal pay day until June.

The Ones We Don't Count

And those are just the ones we count.

Studying child labor is difficult since the only way to know if workers are under 16 is if employers get work permits. Most states require work permits to make sure that younger teens are in school. But 40 percent of young workers were employed in violation of regulations requiring these permits, according to research published in the September 2008 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The same public health study discovered that nearly 37 percent of surveyed youth were working in prohibited jobs or using equipment deemed too dangerous for young workers.

Missouri's Republican-backed legislation would make it impossible to track minors at work since it would repeal the requirement that 14 and 15 year olds obtain work permits. In a move to affirm Missouri's lead in the race to the 19th century, the proposal would remove the state's authority to inspect workplaces where teens are employed and eliminate rules requiring firms to keep records about child workers' health, safety and work during school hours.

Maine's proposed legislation isn't any better. It would allow employers to pay teens a mere $5.25 per hour for the first 180 days on the job. Back when I myself was a teen starting out at work in 1970, I would have earned just 95 cents an hour. I repeat, 95 cents per hour. The federal minimum wage has been above $1 per hour since 1956!

Currently teens can only work until 10 p.m. on school nights. Republican lawmakers, including Missouri State Sen. Jane Cunningham, Utah State Sen. Mike Lee and Maine Rep. David Burns, want kids to work until 11 p.m. I guess they've never heard of homework. Or eight hours of sleep.

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Missouri's attempt to deregulate children's hospitality work is appalling. As a worker in the field, I am quite aware of the number of non-American-owned motels which are hotbeds of transactional sex, methamphetamine and crack sales, and meth manufacture. The Indians who run them hail from a culture which marries their daughters off well before puberty, murders brides for dowries, and often treats cockroaches better than women. Whether or not these places enable child sex, they are unsafe for teen labor. Even mainstream motels may harbor bedbugs, outcall services, and tenants with no respect for workers. This bill should die now, and permanently.

To me, what is most important about this article is that this is a continuing war of men against women. Women's and teens' accomplishments in workplace rights can never be considered permanent, and women must always be ready to refight over workplace rights for ourselves and for our children.

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