With the apparent support of Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), President Donald Trump's Labor Department is reportedly moving to roll back longstanding child labor protections that advocacy groups say have been central to the massive reduction in teenage workplace deaths over the past several decades.
"When you find 16-year-olds running a meat slicer or a mini grinder or a trash compactor, we know kids are severely injured in those circumstances. That's why the laws exist in the first place."
—Michael Hancock, former Labor Department official
Citing anonymous officials familiar with the Trump administration's plans, Ben Penn of Bloomberg Law reported on Tuesday that the Labor Department, led by Trump appointee Alexander Acosta, "will propose relaxing current rules—known as Hazardous Occupations Orders (HOs)—that prohibit 16- and 17-year-old apprentices and student learners from receiving extended, supervised training in certain dangerous jobs."
"That includes roofing work, as well as operating chainsaws, and various other power-driven machines that federal law recognizes as too dangerous for youth younger than 18," Penn adds, noting that the summary of a draft regulation obtained by Bloomberg Law confirmed his sources' summary of the department's proposals.
Worker advocates and anti-child labor organizations were quick to condemn the Trump administration's reported efforts as an attempt to reverse decades of workplace safety progress.
Reid Maki, coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition, told Bloomberg Law, "When I started doing this kind of work 20 years ago, we were losing 70 kids a year at work, and now we are losing usually 20 or less."
"We've made substantial progress, and I think that the tightened hazardous occupations rules have played a role in the lowered death tolls for teenage workers," Maki said. "So I would not be in favor of relaxing any of these standards; I think it would be a tragic mistake and would lead to the death of teenage workers."
Others took to social media to denounce the Labor Department's proposals as an effort to make "child labor great again":
Making child labor great again https://t.co/K039h2Ip37
— DissidentElizabeth Blockchain (@elizabethgeno) May 8, 2018
Filling that skills gap, one mangled child’s corpse at a time. https://t.co/7dRxxLqFca
— Marshall Steinbaum (@Econ_Marshall) May 8, 2018
Former Labor Department officials also slammed the Trump administration's reported move to roll back decades of worker protections.
Michael Hancock, a former senior official in the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division, said in an interview with Bloomberg Law that the deregulatory plan "stretches credulity."
"When you find 16-year-olds running a meat slicer or a mini grinder or a trash compactor, we know kids are severely injured in those circumstances," Hancock concluded. "That's why the laws exist in the first place."