AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage says the state should leave work decisions up to children and their parents when they are not in school and limit state laws restricting child labor to safety issues, but some argue that is already state policy.
“I don’t see why kids can’t go to work when they are 14 or 15,” he said in an interview. “I’m talking about summer months and vacation, not when they are in school.”
LePage said teens should be encouraged to work during the summer months and current law discourages them from working. He said he has heard from parents about how long it takes to get a work permit for vacation periods from school and said in one case a teen had a job lined up but had to wait weeks for a permit.
“A 16-year-old needs to get a permit; it takes three weeks to get a permit,” he said. “Three weeks to get through the superintendent to the Department of Labor to get a permit. That’s outrageous.”
According to the Department of Labor website, workers under the age of 16 need a permit to work.
LePage said if a child and their parents want the teen to be able to work during a vacation or during the summer months, they should be able to work. He said all of the other protections in child labor law, such as the prohibition against working around dangerous machinery, would still be in place.
“Why should they not just be able to go to work,” he said. “It makes no sense to me.”
LePage said it is important to instill a good work ethic in teens because it will help them through their adult life. He said not all youths can handle a job and school at the same time so it is important they can work during vacation periods if they want.
Rep. David Burns, R-Whiting, sponsored a bill aimed at loosening limitations on teens working while in school. He said he would have addressed the governor’s concerns if he had been aware of them earlier this year.
“I didn’t try to go after everything, “he said. “I think the governor has a good idea and we should consider it.”
Burns said too many decisions that should be made by parents and children have been pre-empted by unnecessary laws and regulations. He said teens working outside of the school year should be allowed to work if they want to without needing a permit.
Rep. Robert Hunt, D-Buxton, serves on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee. He said the reality is that the permitting process provides a needed protection for children.
“It’s there to make sure they are not being taken advantage of, they are not working more hours than they should,” he said, “These are important things we put into law because at some point in the past somebody didn’t do what they should for kids.”
Hunt said he would be willing to look at a proposal to streamline the permit process, but he said having schools involved is important because not all parents are as responsible as most in doing what is best for a teen.
Hunt said the reality is teens can work at most jobs.
“All of these laws were passed for a reason, “said William Murphy, director of the Bureau of Labor Education at the University of Maine. “We had some horrendous conditions in this country and in this state where children were being exploited. Parents often needed to have their kids work to just help to put food on the table.”
He said teens working during vacation periods need the same protections as teens working part time during the school year to make sure they are not being exploited by anyone. He said it is unfortunate, but a reality, that some employers and some parents may not put the best interests of the teen first.
LePage also said more teens could join the work force right out of high school if employers could pay them a training wage. He said in many jobs teens have no experience and need to acquire the skills needed for the job.
“I think we need to have a training wage,” he said. “I think we would see more hired and have jobs if they could be paid a training wage as they learned the skills they needed for a job.”
Burns agreed but said his attempt at getting a training wage was shot down in the Legislature.
Hunt said Burns’ proposal was defeated because a training wage is unfair.
“You see some employers just using it to get cheaper labor,” he said. “You see them constantly firing and hiring to pay only the lower wage.”
LePage can introduce any proposal into the Legislature, even those previously defeated. He did not say whether either a training wage or a work permit bill would be part of his January agenda.