Brief

Bill allowing later work hours for younger teens passes divided Assembly

By: - January 20, 2022 6:20 pm

Child Labor Laws (Nick Youngson | Alpha Stock Images CC BY-SA 3.0)

A bill that would extend work hours for some younger teens — but only with a limited number of employers — is going to Gov. Tony Evers after passing the state Assembly Thursday without any Democratic votes.

A representative of the governor did not indicate whether Evers would sign the measure. But with his background as a teacher and unified opposition in his own party and from organized labor, among his strongest supporters, a veto would seem more likely.

The legislation (AB-324 in the Assembly and SB-332 in the Senate) would allow employers to keep workers younger than 16 on the job until 9:30 p.m. on school nights and until 11 p.m. the night before a non-school day. The state’s current cut-off time for that age group is 7 p.m. from Labor Day to May 31 and 9 p.m. from June 1 to Labor Day, which matches federal restrictions.

If the state change is enacted, however, it would apply only to workers not covered by those restrictions, which are the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The federal law exempts businesses with less than $500,000 a year in sales if they don’t conduct interstate commerce.

The legislation’s authors, Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton) and Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma), had pitched it in public hearings as a boon to small businesses that depend on teenage workers, such as restaurants, golf courses and resorts that rely on teens to cover the summer tourist trade. Hospitality industry operators have been struggling in the pandemic with filling jobs. 

But the president of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, Kristine Hillmer, testified at a Senate hearing in June that the lobbying group had not endorsed the bill. While the association supported the objectives, departing from the federal standard would complicate matters for the businesses it was trying to help, she said. Hillmer pointed out that even a business that falls  below the $500,000 annual sales threshold is subject to the federal law if it accepts credit cards, for example, because those transactions involve interstate commerce.

The Wisconsin AFL-CIO has made blocking the bill a messaging priority in the past several months. 

The Senate passed its version of the legislation in October on a voice vote with audible dissent. In the Assembly Thursday, there was no debate before a party-line, roll call vote of 60-35 to concur with the Senate, but the chamber’s Democrats staked out their opposition in their pre-floor session press conference.

The legislation was also the very first talking point in Rep. Greta Neubauer’s debut floor speech as minority leader as she castigated the day’s agenda set by the Republican majority.

“The bills we have in front of us today do not get at the root causes of the challenges we face as a state,” said Neubauer (D-Racine). “They ask school-aged children to solve our workforce issues, placing the burden on them to work later shifts, disrupting their ability to learn.”

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.

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