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Reynolds says U.S. Department of Labor is singling out Iowans

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(The Center Square) – Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Monday some Iowa businesses have faced thousands in fines for federal labor law violations and the U.S. Department of Labor is singling out the state.

Iowa lawmakers passed a bill in 2023 allowing 14- and 15-year-olds to work from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. during the school year and from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. during the summer. The DOL has excessively fined some Iowa businesses, as much as $180,000 in one case,for violating child labor laws, the governor said in a letter to Julie Su, the acting secretary of the DOL.

“More than 25 states currently have state labor laws that are less restrictive than federal law. Those 25 states have not been subjected to the same level of enforcement and excessive fines as Iowa,” Reynolds said. “For example, South Dakota has allowed 14- and 15-year-olds to work until 10 p.m. during the school year since 1994. According to the South Dakota Retailers Association, their businesses have never faced the same level of enforcement scrutiny as Iowa in the 30 years since their law was enacted.”

Reynolds said working past 7 p.m. on a school night is “not oppressive child labor,” as many school activities that benefit children occur after 7 p.m.

“Work is equally beneficial for kids. Research shows that part-time employment benefits teens well beyond a paycheck,” Reynolds said. “High schoolers who hold a job set themselves up for future careers with higher wages, increased annual earnings, and less time spent out of work. Having a job also teaches them a sense of responsibility and strengthens their work ethic.”

In an open letter to Iowa residents, the governor said the DOL is singling out Iowa.

“The U.S. Department of Labor is on a crusade to root out what it calls ‘oppressive child labor’ in Iowa, and it’s prepared to ‘fully utilize its statutory and regulatory authority’ by imposing maximum penalties on businesses,” Reynolds said in a letter.

The governor said one Iowa business could close due to federal fines for child labor. Sugapeach Chicken and Fish Fry in North Liberty, Iowa, employs teens to serve customers, Reynolds said. The business, owned by Chad and Carol Simmons, opened in 2016.

“The Simmons’ participate in the Scholars Making Dollars program coordinated by the local chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, a historically Black fraternity. Its members mentor area youth, while local businesses like Sugapeach give them opportunities to develop work skills, gain real-world experience, and earn a paycheck,” Reynolds said. “Sugapeach, like many small businesses, is a staple of its community and its potential closure, due to severe penalties imposed by the department, will have impacts well beyond its own doors.”

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