For the first time in nearly a century, Pennsylvania’s child-labor laws may be completely revamped and allow for more working hours for minors.
The Child Labor Law of 1915 contains “archaic” provisions, contradicts itself and needs to be modernized, state Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland, the main sponsor of HB 927, said this week at a House Labor and Industry Committee hearing.
Due to amendments to the law, the state’s child-labor standards have become increasingly difficult to understand, said Bruce Hanson, executive director of the House Labor and Industry Committee and drafter of the bill. HB 927 would modernize the language and make it easier for employers and employees to grasp, as some terminology used in it is even beyond the understanding of the lawmakers.
“Pennsylvania’s child-labor law was first enacted in 1915. Over the last 96 years, the way people live their lives has drastically changed. We went from horse and buggy to horse-powered engines; from black-and-white televisions to high definition; from compasses to GPS; from phonographs to digital downloads; and from Vaudeville to the Internet,” said Scott Robinette, a deputy secretary for the Department of Labor & Industry, who testified at Wednesday’s hearing.
The law has been amended several times, and the department said the time has come for the law to be reformed, said Robinette.
Under the bill, teenagers 16 and older could work 10 hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays, up from eight in the current law.
Delozier’s bill also would allow those teens to work a total of 48 hours in a week when school is not in session, up from the previous 44 hours, and a maximum of 10 hours a day, an increase from the previous eight.
Under current law, when school is in session employees 16 and older can work a maximum of 28 hours a week, and the bill does not change this number.
Newspapers in the state would benefit from the changes because it would allow children as young as 11 to work seven days a week as newspaper carriers instead of six days under the law as it is today.
Bernard Oravec, publisher of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, the state’s fourth oldest newspaper, told the committee he was in favor of the law, which would continue to allow children who deliver newspapers to begin working at 5 a.m.
The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, said allowing children to work at such early hours is dangerous.
“It is our organization’s belief that no 11-year-old should be working at 5 a.m. in the morning,” said Michael Stefan, a legislative representative for the labor union group.
Delozier said the changes were meant to set clear standards for employers and minors, and to modernize the law by eliminating confusing language and clear up gray areas.
“The bottom line is that HB 927 does not reinvent the wheel,” Delozier said.
However, union representatives said the changes would move child-labor laws backward.
“The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO acknowledges that portions of the current child-labor law are antiquated, unclear and inconsistent with current federal standards,” Stefan said. “While we recognize these faults, we also find it necessary to be clear with our position of opposition towards any expansion of working hours.”
The new bill also would put Pennsylvania more in line with federal labor laws.
Under Pennsylvania law, teenagers who are 14 and 15 can only work four hours a day and a maximum of 18 hours per week during a regular school week. However, federal law mandates that minors in that same age group work a maximum of three hours a day; Delozier’s bill would match the federal law.