GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., Aug. 23, 2023 — State Rep. Phil Skaggs (D-East Grand Rapids) introduced House Bill 4932 today, which aims to bolster Michigan’s child labor laws. The legislation increases penalties against unethical companies that exploit and abuse young people in unsafe working environments.

“As Michigan children head back to school, it is important that we do all we can to put them in the best position to succeed,” Skaggs said. “While having a job at a young age can teach important, lifelong skills and help support families, companies that break the law and exploit our kids for higher profits should be held accountable. Learning about the tragic stories of these young people not only breaks our hearts but spurs us to protect them. Unlike states such as Iowa and Arkansas that are rolling back their child labor protections, we in Michigan are going to show that we value our young people and will protect them against exploitation.”

This legislation was introduced in response to a recent New York Times article detailing the widespread, illegal use of child labor in West Michigan and throughout the country. The exposé by Hannah Drier uncovered several instances of children being subjected to exploitation and unsafe working conditions in Skaggs’ district. All too often, these children were forced to miss classes or drop out of school altogether. The bill would increase financial penalties, which have not been updated since 1981, against bad actors five to 10 times more than current fines, which are generally a $500 fine for the first and all subsequent violations. Under the bill, first offenses would be punishable by up to $5,000, second offenses up to $25,000 and subsequent offenses up to $50,000. Violations after the first offense would increase from misdemeanors to felonies. Finally, the bill, mirroring federal law, provides for specific enhanced penalties on employers that violate the law if the misconduct results in death or great bodily harm.

“Children have a right to be safe and focus on their education. Teenagers should not be working on egg farms for 12 hours a day, they should not be working the night shift on the assembly line and they should not be working under hazardous conditions. Unfortunately, current penalties are not enough of a deterrent, and we must send a strong message that shows the exploitation of children will not be tolerated in any form,” Skaggs continued. “Michigan has a rich history of labor justice for young people. I believe we must continue to lead the charge in protecting our most precious resource — our bright, hopeful and resilient children.”