Speaking Out for Young Workers

Speaking Out for Young Workers

Commentary and news on occupational health and safety for young workers.


Young Worker Digest- February

Over the past couple of weeks, I have a read a series of articles related to young workers ranging from citations being issued by OSHA for companies that have severely injured young workers to articles citing what young workers want out of their first jobs. Here is a collection of those articles for you to read.

Legal News:

In Arizona, lawmakers propose to make an amendment to the minimum wage law that would allow for employers to pay young workers less than minimum wage. The text reads as follows:

D. An employer may pay a wage up to three dollars per hour less than the minimum wage for an employee under twenty years of age if either of the following apply:

1. The employee works less than twenty hours during the week.

2. The length of the employment is less than ninety days.

Here is a link to the actual bill: http://www.azleg.gov//FormatDocument.asp?inDoc=/legtext/50leg/2r/bills/hcr2056p.htm&Session_ID=107.

At the federal level, proposed rule changes to child labor law in the agriculture industry has become of firestorm of political debate in Washington and across America's farmland. I encourage you to not only ready this recent article from AgWeek about this continuing debate over child labor law, but to take the time to read the section "Real Risks." As a safety and health professional, I am somewhat alarmed how most articles I have read from various news media focus solely on the partisan politics side of things, missing the real reason these rule changes were proposed in the first place- the young workers who have lost their lives while working on the farm. Case in point, on the most recent OSHA QuickTakes, I was brought to a news release regarding US Department of Labor's OSHA citing a grain company after 2 teenage workers suffer leg amputations at Kremlin, Okla., facility. Check it out.

 I also encourage you to read through the testimony from Nancy J. Leppink, Deputy Wage and Hour Administrator regarding these rule changes.

But what about the young workers? What are their thoughts? NPR had an interesting story about the mining industry and how it is attracting young workers this morning. There is a link to either listen to the story or read the article, but either way the message is clear- the financial gains for working in the mines appear to far outweigh the risks associated with working in the mines for the young workers that were interviewed. Which is interesting if you have read the National Geographic Article that described the physiological wiring of the teenage brain.

In the Pew Research Center's recent article, "Young, Underemployed and Optimistic: Coming of Age, Slowly, in a Tough Economy," a more clearly defined picture of what our next generation of workers is up against becomes glaringly clear, yet encouraging. In spite being hit hard by tough economic times, the young workers remain optimistic about their future. However, the story underlines that with high unemployment rates among young workers (in this article defined as those between 18-24), forty-nine percent of those surveyed report having taken a job just to make ends meet. Which brings me back to the story from NPR this morning about young workers flocking to the mines because of the high salaries- are we doing all we can to protect their safety as they embark on these dangerous jobs?