OUR POSITION: A Republican-sponsored tearing down of current restrictions on teenage workers is not a terrible idea, but it may go a little too far.
A Republican-backed bill being proposed in the Florida Legislature is an obvious attempt to temper the tight labor market.
No one needs to be told that the past few months have found employers, especially in the restaurant business, having a difficult time filling jobs.
A Florida House panel has approved an idea to lower restrictions on 17 and 18-year-old workers. It was no surprise the panel approved the proposal along party lines with Republicans in favor of opening up opportunities for teens to work longer hours with fewer restrictions.
Democrats accused their GOP colleagues of trying to fill the jobs that were left vacant with the Legislature cracked down on undocumented labor. While we do not support illegal alien workers, there is no doubt the impact of legislation that robbed the agriculture, hotel and restaurant industry of thousands of workers that were counted on to fill jobs.
Rep. Linda Chaney, R-St. Pete Beach, filed the legislation that will be taken up when lawmakers return to Tallahassee in January.
Under the proposal, new rules would cut out restrictions on 8-hour days for 16- and 17-year-old workers the day prior to school. It would also remove prohibition on teens working before 6:30 a.m. and after 11 p.m. And, what could be the most troubling idea would allow those 16 and 17-year olds to work more than 30 hours a week.
Democrats are howling about the potential impact on school grades and graduation rates. Their concern is not without merit.
We propose taking a sensible look at the idea from both sides.
Florida needs more workers. As pointed out in a News Service of Florida story quoting Chaney, these young workers are driving cars. Sixteen and 17-year-olds today, we propose, are more mature than most of us were at that age. Heck, they are learning things in middle school many baby boomers were taught in high school — if ever.
Let’s face it, teens today are mostly more materialistic than decades ago too. They want video games, nice clothes, concert tickets. Those things are not always available to them — especially in single family households or in two-parent households when you consider inflation and the struggle by many families just to pay rent and insurance nowadays.
But, there is another side to all this. The education red flags are real.
At today’s wages — fast food restaurants paying $16 to $17 an hour plus 401K — if teens are allowed to work 40 hours a week and maybe more with overtime that is a temptation that might not only take priority over homework, but it could be more attractive than going to school at all. And, how many employers, strapped for labor, would be tempted to work teens more than 8 hours a day, knowing they must get up and go to school the next day? Florida has no official department of labor where obstructions of the law could be reported.
There are indeed pitfalls to the legislation.
We believe with some compromise, the bill would modernize current restrictions that were put in place decades ago. But, some limits must remain or we fear a hike in school drop-out rates.
Image Credits: Freeimages.com:Rob Gonyea