TL@W Going Back to the Future

June 19, 2015

When MassCOSH Teens Lead @ Work (TL@W) Peer Leader Dominic Tran and Alumnus Jessica Tavares sat down before the Joint Committee of Labor and Workforce to fight changes that would weaken the state’s Child Labor law, they were following a proud tradition of activism established ten years ago by some of the very first Peer Leaders.

Responding to a chain of teen worker deaths in 2005 and 2006, then MassCOSH Peer Leaders were shocked to learn that the Attorney General lacked the ability to bring employers to civil court in the event of a child labor violation.

“At the time, the Attorney General could only bring these employers to criminal court where they had to be proved criminally negligible, which is very high bar,” said MassCOSH Executive Director Marcy Goldstein-Gelb.

To right this injustice, TL@W launched a campaign to pass a law that would give the Attorney General the ability to fine employers for Child Labor violations, legislation they successfully won in 2007.

However, eight years later, TL@W has learned of a bill that would essentially mitigate what the program fought so hard to achieve. Now, a new class of Peer Leaders is finding itself at the State House, this time to fight against a reduction in fines Child Labor law violators currently face.

“The recently filed House Bill 1790, an Act Relative to Child Labor Law, would cut the already low fines employers face in half unless the Attorney General can prove the violation was willful and that can harder to do than it sounds” said Tavares.

The proposed law would create two tiers of Child Labor Law violations for employers: willful and not willful. MassCOSH and its allies fear the bill would cut the Child Labor penalties by more than half, from $250 to $100, for each offense unless the Attorney General could prove that the violator willfully violated the law.

“Teen safety should be held in higher priority than a hundred dollars,” testified Tran. “Child Labor Law violators should not be able to walk, essentially unscathed, from the law and not face any real consequences.”

Tavares seconds these concerns.

“It is important that HB1709 not pass because there will be a rise in Child Labor Laws violations. Personally, I find it extremely strange that such bill would even be considered. The only people who would want HB1709 to pass are those who plan on violating Child Labor Laws. Only a small percentage of people would benefit from HB1709, dirty employers who prey on youth employment. In order to keep our teens in Massachusetts safe, HB1709 cannot pass.”
With an influx of 25 peer leaders this summer, TL@W is ready to defend the gains they made almost a decade ago and continue to educate their peers on their rights under the state’s Child Labor Law.