A sign outside the U.S. Department of Labor headquarters

The U.S. Department of Labor has fined an Alabama company $117,175 for child labor violations after a 15-year-old Guatemalan fell to his death on the job in 2019.

(Photo: Ed Brown/Wikimedia Commons)

As GOP Erodes Child Labor Laws, Alabama Roofer Fined Just $117K for Teen's Worksite Death

"It's unconscionable that roofing companies hire 15-year-olds," said one labor expert—but in state after state and even at the federal level, lawmakers are rolling back restrictions on teen workers.

Workers' rights advocates on Wednesday decried a meager fine for an Alabama contractor that illegally employed a 15-year-old boy who died on the job, a move that came amid a push by Republicans at the federal and state level to roll back child labor protections.

The U.S. Department of Labor fined Pelham, Alabama-based Apex Roofing & Restoration $117,175 in civil penalties for violation of child labor laws resulting in the July 1, 2019 death of a 15-year-old Guatemalan worker during his first day on the job in Cullman, 50 miles north of Birmingham.

The teen—who could not be identified because he was a minor—fell through insulation and plunged 35-50 feet to his death on a concrete floor inside the building on which he was working, according to a Cullman Tribunereport at the time.

The Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division found that the company's employment of the teen violated a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act that prohibits workers under the age of 18 from doing dangerous jobs including roofing or construction.

"Apex Roofing risked the life of a child by employing him to work on a roof in violation of federal child labor laws, leaving relatives and friends to grieve an unnecessary and preventable tragedy," Wage and Hour Administrator Jessica Looman said in a statement.

The Labor Department action came shortly after the Alabama Policy Institute, a right-wing think tank, published its annual agenda. The document advocates rolling back limits on 14- and 15-year-olds in the workplace.

An Apex Roofing spokesperson told Common Dreams:

We at Apex Roofing & Restoration are truly heartbroken by the senseless death of a minor at a job site in 2019. The tragic incident occurred when a subcontractor's worker brought his sibling to a worksite without Apex's knowledge or permission.

Apex has a long-standing policy prohibiting any form of child labor. In addition, since that accident, Apex has implemented a number of measures to further strengthen job site security and safety. Our hearts are with this family and any family who suffers a loss.

Common Dreamsreported last year that congressional Democrats implored the Labor Department to act following a Reuters investigation that found dozens of chidren as young as 12 years old—most of them Central American migrants—working in Alabama and Georgia factories supplying the Korean auto giant Hyundai.

Across the country, Republican state lawmakers have been advancing legislation to remove restrictions on child labor, despite several high-profile workplace deaths of minors.

At the federal level, Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) and Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) last year introduced a bill that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work in the logging industry.

Major corporations including McDonald's, Costco, Starbucks, Amazon-owned Whole Foods, and PepsiCo have said they're taking steps to tackle child labor in their supply chains, The New York Timesreported Wednesday.

Whole Foods said in a statement that it has "been actively evolving our focus on the risk of migrant child labor domestically."

According to Labor Department data, the number of minors employed in violation of child labor laws soared by 283% from 2015 to 2022. Over that same period, the number of minors employed in violation of hazardous occupation orders rose 94%.

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