Yes This Just Happened: The Florida Legislature Just Voted To Roll Back Decades of Child Labor Protections | Opportunity For All Floridians

Yes This Just Happened: The Florida Legislature Just Voted To Roll Back Decades of Child Labor Protections

The Florida House Thursday passed a Republican-backed bill on a 80-35 vote that critics said would let employers exploit working teens. The legislation’s main sponsor defended the bill.

“This bill is about choice and opportunity for families,” said bill sponsor Linda Chaney, R-St. Pete Beach. “I trust that our families and that our teens will make the right choice for them in their own individual situation.” The legislation still must pass the state Senate before it can be sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

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A detailed analysis by the Florida Policy Institute makes it clear that this legislation (HB 49 and its companion bill in the Senate, SB 1596) would take Florida back decades in child labor law.

If passed, HB 49/SB 1596 would allow employers to schedule 16- and 17-year-old Floridians: 

Both bills also propose cutting home- and virtual-school students in this age group out of certain protections.

Both Florida’s Department of Education and Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) emphasize that the state’s current child labor laws are meant to protect children’s health, workplace welfare, and education. 

Florida Child Labor Laws Date Back to 1913

These two bills (H.B. 49/ S.B. 1596) would undo decades of vital protections for Florida’s children, catalyzing increased exploitation of youth workers in the Sunshine State. Florida laws governing children’s work hours have changed numerous times since they were first enacted in 1913. The last time Florida lawmakers dramatically changed the hours children could work was in 1986, extending the curfew and ban on working more than six days in a row to those 17 and younger.

Before this, the law only shielded children aged 15 and younger. Many of the changes proposed by these bills would take Florida back to the 1980s and beyond. While HB 49 would allow employers to schedule home- and virtual-school students during school hours, SB 1596 would exempt home- and virtual school students from all existing work curfew and hour laws.

This means, under the Senate version, employers could schedule these students for unlimited hours, any time day or night, seven days per week, and without breaks.

ProvisionCURRENT LAWH.B. 49S.B. 1596
Requires 30+ minute breaks every 4 hours?
Prohibits scheduling for more than 6 consecutive days?
Limits weekly work hours during school months to 30?
Limits daily work hours when school is the next day to 8?(allows more than 8 on Sundays and holidays)

Parents Speak Out For Their Kids

The Florida Phoenix reported that a group of women farmworkers from Homestead, a major agricultural area in South Florida, traveled to Tallahassee on Tuesday to say they want their kids to have opportunities to further their education rather than toil in the fields.

Members of The Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc. denounced efforts to rollback child labor protections during a committee meeting on Jan. 30, 2024. (Photo by Jackie Llanos/Florida Phoenix)

“What’s best for our kids is that they study to be able to defend themselves in life, so that they don’t have to work in the fields under the sun all the time. We don’t want them to pass out from heat illness or suffer debilitating injuries; we want them to be healthy,” said Sandra Diaz, one of the workers with The Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc.

She continued: “We want our kids to be more successful than we are. Some of us are not professionals, but we want our kids to be.”

Child labor violations in Florida have tripled in recent years. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Florida had 281 child labor violations in 2022, up from 178 in 2021, an increase of 57.9 percent. From 2019 to 2022, child labor violations nearly tripled (from 95 in 2019 to 281 in 2022), an increase of 195.8 percent. In 2023, the DOL publicized cases of employers from Tampa to Jacksonville to Palm Coast scheduling 118 teens past legal work hours, resulting in nearly $100,000 in fines. All were in the food service or amusement and recreation industries. However, these cases are only those reported and investigated, so the numbers are likely higher.

Florida does not have its own administrative entity (like a Division of Labor Standards or Department of Labor) to enforce wage and hour laws, unlike most other states. Weakening Florida’s child labor laws amid lax state oversight would be dangerous for Florida youth — including immigrant youth, who are increasingly exploited by employers

“We Are Children”: Kids Speak Out

And it’s not just parents who are speaking out. Teens who are juggling work and school are worried about what these bills will mean for them. 

WLRN, South Florida’s public radio station, reported that on a typical night, Auxmary Valdez returns home from a long day of school, soccer practice and work at a tutoring agency at about 10:30pm. Only then is she able to cram on her school work and work on her college applications.

“That’s on top of the clubs that I’m doing, on top of an AP research project that I’m doing that takes a lot of time,” said Valdez, a senior at Mater Lakes Academy in Hialeah, a charter school.

If the bills pass, Valdez fears jobs will simply ask teenagers to work more and more hours — because they can. She fears the bill would lead to some tough choices for teenagers like herself trying to finish high school.

Daniel Rivero / WLRN

“I would have to find a way to either call off at work or cut back my extracurriculars and lower my chances at college. Like — lower my admissions chances by not being as involved in those clubs,” she said. “In the end, it’s education or money. And you do need an education to make money in the future.”

“I don’t really appreciate how these representatives are throwing us into corporate America,” added Valdez.

“Until we get the right to vote, we are children,” said Valdez. “It is child labor.”

Child Labor rollback bills would impact up to 94,000 Florida youth. 

An estimated 520,000 teens aged 16 and 17 live in Florida, which is the primary age group targeted by this legislation. Based on teen work trends, The Florida Policy Institute estimates that 93,528 of these teens are in the labor force and could be directly impacted by the bills. In the labor force is defined as those who are actively looking for work or who were laid off and are awaiting recall as unemployed—otherwise, they are not part of the labor force. 

This includes 80,463 teens who are currently employed (86 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds in Florida’s labor force). This data tells us that most teens this age who are seeking work already have it; eroding Florida’s child labor laws is unnecessary. 

HB 49/SB 1596 could endanger the 76 percent of employed 16- and 17-year-olds who also attend school. 

Among the more than 80,000 teens aged 16 and 17 employed in Florida, there are an estimated 61,318 juggling work and school demands (76.2 percent). If these bills pass, they will remove nearly every state guardrail that helps ensure youth are not too exhausted to perform well in school and other extracurricular activities. 

Bill Sponsor: “They’re Not Children”

HB 49 in particular makes it clear that it treats 16- and 17-year-olds as if they were adults. The bill sponsor also indicated in her remarks on the bill during committee that these teens should not be considered children

“These are teenagers. These young adults, they’re 16 and 17. They’re driving cars,” bill sponsor Linda Chaney, R-St. Pete Beach, said. “So, they’re not children.” 

If employers are no longer required to consider school schedules, this will leave youth who are striving to complete school while holding down a job with an unfair choice: accept the hours their boss schedules them and put themselves at risk academically, or lose their job and the money and experience that comes with it.

Take Action: Write Your Senators and the Governor to Oppose This Bill

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