Save Child Labor Protections in Ohio

Governor Mike Dewine

In March, the Ohio Senate passed Senate Bill 30 (SB 30), which would allow employers to schedule children ages 14 and 15 for work as late as 9:00 p.m. on school nights, beyond the 7:00 p.m. limit maintained by federal law. That will hurt kids. At the time of this writing, the bill has been passed by the Ohio Senate and sent to the House for a vote.

Governor DeWine should stand strong in his commitment to Ohio’s children and veto it if it makes it through to his desk. Not only is it in violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, it's just plain wrong for kids.

Please sign on and share, we will be delivering the petition, with all our names, in person when the time comes for him to consider signing.

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Cleveland, OH

To: Governor Mike Dewine
From: [Your Name]

Governor Mike DeWine
Riffe Center, 77 South High St., 30th Floor
Columbus, OH 43215

Dear Gov. DeWine:

I write today to urge you to veto Senate Bill 30 (SB 30), which would allow employers to schedule children ages 14 and 15 for work as late as 9:00 p.m., beyond the 7:00 p.m. limit maintained by federal law.

Your proposed budget highlighted a commitment to Ohio children by asking lawmakers to allocate more funds to K-12 education and child care, and to invest in literacy. But children’s success in school also depends on them being rested and ready to learn, having had time to complete their homework. Provisions of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act that limit working hours for teens under 16 to three hours per day, before 7:00 p.m., are designed to make sure students can spend their time learning.

SB 30 would dismantle the 7:00 p.m. protection, if it were allowed to supersede federal law. And though SB 30 does not provide for an extension of the three-hour limit, it opens the door to skirting this requirement. In a state where wage theft is rampant and pay statements are not mandated by law, employers could schedule young teenagers for longer shifts and simply not record it. The 7:00 p.m. time threshold sets a natural bound on the hours in which a teen could plausibly be working after school and is straightforward for oversight agencies to verify.

Such legal safeguards help protect children from labor trafficking. Loosening restrictions on hours worked reduces agencies’ chances of intervening before abuse gets even worse, as it recently has: Violations of child labor laws verified by the USDOL have increased 37% over the last year. The New York Times has documented how gang violence and financial destitution made worse by COVID-19 have led to a surge in unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. from Latin American countries. Recognizing the danger these children face in their home countries, the Biden administration has admitted them and tasked the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) with placing them with sponsors. However, while some 85% are placed with family members, ORR lacks investigative powers and its jurisdiction ends with placement, so the agency has lost track of some 85,000 migrant children placed in the last two years. An unknown number of these children, and children who never pass through any immigration processing, are among those being trafficked for labor including sex work and jobs in dangerous facilities that prevent their ability to attend school while exposing them to potentially life-altering injuries.

The Times found migrant children working in the supply chains of major corporations across the U.S., performing jobs in factories and food processing facilities including at labor contractor Hearthside Food Solutions, where an Ohio woman had a portion of her scalp ripped off by a machine in 2015. The USDOL this year assessed $1.5 million in fines against Packers Sanitation Services Inc., which has operations in Ohio, for illegally employing over 100 children aged 13 to 17 in overnight jobs using hazardous chemicals to clean razor sharp meat-cutting saws.

Dismantling long-settled laws designed to protect children from abuse clears the way for corporations to access and exploit children in desperate situations, instead of paying livable wages that would attract adult workers. It may be appropriate for young teenagers to work a few hours a week to earn spending money or gain job experience. Current law allows this already. Limiting young teenagers to three hours per night and not past 7:00 p.m. on school nights ensures that they are able to go to school. Teenagers need evening hours to do their homework, participate in extracurricular activities and rest. The children profiled by the Times not only missed out on those vital extras: They worked such long shifts that they skipped or dropped out of school altogether.

The fact that some families depend on the earnings of children is a problem — one that reflects the failure of our labor market to deliver livable wages to adults in the workforce, and of policymakers to implement a minimum wage that meets the cost of living.

Some of the most powerful corporations in the country use child labor directly or indirectly: Walmart, which sold dinner rolls made by such children, posted $139 billion in profits in 2021, spent $15.9 billion on share repurchases that enrich stockholders and paid its CEO $25.7 million. Ford posted $21.7 billion in profits and used auto parts made by children in Michigan. The reliance of some of the world’s most profitable companies on exploitive child labor is inexcusable. Ohio lawmakers should not condone it, much less enable it.

Like the three-hour school-day work limitation, the ban on children working in certain food processing and manufacturing facilities would remain if SB 30 becomes law. However, the state and federal governments allocate far too few resources to wage and hour enforcement. Lifting the 7:00 p.m. work limitation would remove an enforcement tool now available to oversight agencies in the USDOL and Ohio’s Commerce Department, making it less likely that violations of this type are discovered and stopped.

Lucy Manning wrote for the USDOL that “laws preventing child labor, like other laws for the protection of workers, help to improve working and living conditions for all the people.” She wrote those words in 1946. That’s how far back I had to look to find discussion on the need for child labor protections, because these points have long been settled law — codified in the Fair Labor Standards Act since 1938 — and common sense.

Ohio lawmakers must not condone the commodification of children. That members of the state legislature would do so by passing SB 30 is a shameful dereliction of their duty to protect all Ohioans and create a state in which all children are able to complete their education. I urge you to veto it.


Michael Shields
Senior Researcher
Policy Matters Ohio