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'Our kids are not for sale' | Union workers, parents rally in Davenport against proposed Iowa child labor laws

Protestors were concerned over changes that could allow teens to work more hours and more "dangerous" jobs.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Union workers and parents came together in Davenport at the UFCW Local 431 hall, rallying against proposed changes to Iowa's child labor laws.

The bills in question are Senate File 542 and House File 647 which protestors claim could put working teens in danger.

Supporters of the bills assert that changes would help address labor shortages and give students more work experience, but the Quad City Federation of Labor and some parents in the Quad Cities area disagree.

Several times at the indoor rally, demonstrators chanted the phrase "our kids are not for sale!"

📣"IOWA KIDS ARE NOT FOR SALE!" That's the message we want our legislators to hear! Join us for a Rally at the Davenport...

Posted by UFCW LOCAL 431 on Thursday, March 23, 2023

Speakers claimed the bills could bring unfair changes for teens as young as 14 years old, such as allowing them to work 6-hour night shifts and even longer hours during the summer.

"What we're seeing a lot at the schools is over-scheduling, where students who are in work are being scheduled for too many shifts and it's interfering with their extracurriculars," Evan Schenck from the Davenport Education Association said, who teaches social studies at Davenport North High School.

The union is also concerned over 15-year-olds being allowed to work on assembly production lines or handling shipments of items up to 50 pounds.

"Kids would be at much greater risk of injury, accident, chronic injuries — even back injuries that could last them the rest of their lives beginning when they're 14," Schenck said.

Schenck said he's not opposed to teens working, but wants it to be safe.

"I've done construction, I've worked in service restaurants and I landed on teaching, and after that, I went to University of Iowa," he said. "That work experience was a great help to me, but it was only possible because it took place in a context where it was regulated, where there were clear limitations on what I could be asked to do, or what I could be pressured to do by employers."

Speakers at the protest also had issues with 16 and 17-year-olds being allowed to serve alcohol if the laws were to take effect, concerned over possible harassment "or worse" from unruly customers.

"My main concern is not so much about my own children, but about families that need their children to work for the extra income because they're not paid enough living wages," UFCW 431 secretary and treasurer Ashley Danner said.

Another main concern was a change to so-called "hazardous" jobs, which could be opened to 14 to 17-year-olds through a "work-based learning" program waiver from the Iowa Workforce Development.

"Children are already afraid to speak out for what they want as it is... so putting the children in those types of situations is not safe," she said.

Several presenters also suggested that Iowa lawmakers should increase wages instead of changing child labor laws, in order to boost the economy.

As of March 25, the minimum wage in Iowa is $7.25/hr. The minimum wage in Illinois is $13.00/hr.

Both bills still need approval from the Iowa House and Senate before they can be signed into law.

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