Proposal to Relax Child Labor Law Sent for White House Review (Corrected)

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By Ben Penn

A regulation to ease child labors laws to let teenagers work longer hours in jobs currently deemed hazardous is now one procedural hurdle from public release.

The Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division sent this proposed rule to the White House regulatory review office July 14, according to an online posting. The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs will now review the proposal and send it back to the DOL for final edits before it can be published for public comment.

Earlier plans for this regulation detailed in a draft summary of the rule obtained by Bloomberg Law in April showed the proposal would call for relaxing current rules—known as Hazardous Occupations Orders or HOs—that prohibit 16- and 17-year-old apprentices and student learners from receiving extended, supervised training in certain dangerous jobs.

The list includes roofing work, as well as operating chainsaws, meat slicers, and various other power-driven machines that federal law recognizes as too dangerous for those younger than 18.

It’s not yet known which of these 17 categories of occupations will be targeted in the rulemaking at its current stage. However, the title of the proposed rule displayed on OIRA’s website underwent a midday edit on July 16 that suggests the agency is now narrowing the regulatory scope.

The government updated its online description of the rule by inserting the phrase “in Health Care Occupations” to a rule now titled “Expanding Employment, Training, and Apprenticeship Opportunities for 16- and 17-Year-Olds in Health Care Occupations under the Fair Labor Standards Act.”

A DOL spokesman declined to comment when asked to specify if the new name means the proposal addresses fewer types of jobs than the agency was originally preparing to tackle.

A focus on health-care jobs may mean the WHD is now proposing to remove the rule that prevents youth under 18 from operating power-driven patient lifts, as included in one of the hazardous occupations.

The rulemaking comes amid the administration’s broader effort to scale up the apprenticeship job-training model. But by allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to spend more time performing hazardous work, the agency would be met with sharp opposition from worker advocates and rebuke on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) has already written to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to seek an explanation for why he would want to embark on a regulation that “could jeopardize the safety of America’s youth.”

“We’d rather that they learn to use equipment the right way when they’re 17 than use it for the first time when they’re 18,” Acosta said during a March Senate hearing.

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