Michigan Dems Urge Congress to Get Serious About Child Labor Violations

US Rep. Dan Kildee speaks at a news conference on July 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

By Kyle Kaminski

September 13, 2023

Congressional leaders from Michigan are pushing Republicans in the US House of Representatives to help crack down on child labor violations and protect kids.

MICHIGAN—In a letter sent this week to US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, four US representatives from Michigan (and 34 other members of Congress) are urging federal lawmakers to pass legislation to address a growing number of child labor violations nationwide.

“Since 2018, violations of child labor laws have increased nearly 70 percent,” US Reps. Dan Kildee, Hillary Scholten, Shri Thanedar, and Rashida Tlaib (all D-Michigan) wrote in the letter this week. “Some children have been seriously injured, maimed and even killed in illegal working conditions…We urge you to pass this much-needed funding to combat child labor and look forward to working with you to protect children from illegal dangerous working conditions.”

Last month, President Joe Biden requested Congress approve additional funding to help “invest in our communities and people, reduce costs for working families, and help grow our economy from the middle out and bottom up,” according to a letter his administration sent to McCarthy.

Among the top priorities: More funding for the US Department of Labor to address the rising number of child labor violations, and hold employers accountable when they break the law.

Specifically, Biden requested an additional $100 million from Congress, which his administration said will bolster “efforts to protect children from exploitation, particularly vulnerable children entering the United States through the southern border” and investigate labor law violations.

So far, Republican leaders in Congress appear at an impasse that could lead to a government shutdown or a challenge from far-right Republicans to McCarthy’s hold on top post in the House

This week’s letter urges McCarthy to pass funding bills to “protect children from dangerous working conditions and hold employers accountable” when they break the law.

“Americans have seen disturbing reports documenting the rise of companies illegally employing children in dangerous jobs. These reports show child labor is a systemic issue,” the letter reads.

In March, Michigan state lawmakers called for an investigation after a New York Times article exposed the nationwide exploitation of migrant child workers—including a number of children who were reportedly working inside at least three factories across the Grand Rapids area.

Those kids are part of a “new economy of exploitation,” the Times reported, noting that similar “shadow work forces” also extend across industries in every state, flouting child labor laws that have been in place for nearly a century through a “chain of willful ignorance,” where companies have either botched—or ignored—employment screenings designed to prevent child labor.

Three days after the Times story was published, Scholten addressed the US House to condemn child labor practices and ask that President Biden’s administration establish an inter-agency task force. In July, she and Kildee also launched their own Child Labor Prevention Task Force.

“This is a multi-level, multi-system failure that created the shadows where these children can be exploited, and we need a multi-level, multi-system approach to fix it,” Scholten said. “We as a Congress must also act. This means first and foremost holding the companies accountable with every tool at our disposal. It also means conducting oversight over the agencies responsible for enforcing these laws, and ensuring they have the resources they need to protect these kids.”

The request for more federal funding is part of the Biden administration’s response to those calls—which aims to not just target factories and suppliers that illegally employ children, but also larger companies that may have child labor supporting some parts of their distant supply chain.

Migrant children often use false identification and find jobs through staffing agencies that do not verify their Social Security numbers, the Times reported. And companies have escaped fines in the past by shifting blame to other agencies or subcontractors when violations are discovered.

Officials at the Department of Labor have said they plan to do a better job cracking down on these practices—including with a “hot goods” legal provision that could prevent some products that involve the use of child labor from crossing state borders. 

In addition to Kildee, Scholten, Thanedar, and Tlaib, this week’s letter to McCarthy was also signed by US Reps. Nanette Barragán; Donald Beyer; Yadira Caraveo; André Carson; Kathy Castor; Judy Chu; Yvette Clarke; Danny Davis; Anna Eshoo; Jesús “Chuy” García; Daniel Goldman; Al Green; Stephen Lynch; Seth Magaziner; Kathy Manning; Betty McCollum; Morgan McGarvey; James McGovern; Gwen Moore; Kevin Mullin; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; Jimmy Panetta; Bill Pascrell; Mark Pocan; Katie Porter; Raul Ruiz; Linda Sánchez; Jan Schakowsky; Dina Titus; Jill Tokuda; David Trone; Debbie Wasserman Schultz; and Nikema Williams.

READ MORE: Lawmakers Demand Investigation of Illegal Child Labor in Grand Rapids 

For the latest Michigan news, follow The ‘Gander on Twitter.

Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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