LANSING, Mich. — New legislation aiming to better protect Michigan kids has been introduced in the state legislature.
State Rep. Phil Skaggs (D–East Grand Rapids) says his bill HB 4932 will strengthen Michigan's child labor laws by increasing fines and penalties for companies that exploit kids in the workplace.
This legislation was introduced after the extensive New York Times investigation went public in February revealing that several West Michigan companies were subjecting kids to unsafe conditions.
In an interview with FOX 17 Wednesday, Representative Skaggs says "it is heartbreaking to know that children are in hazardous conditions, that they're working on the farms late, that they're doing third shifts, that they're dropping out of school. This is why there are better ways to run an economy than exploiting our young people."
According to a release from Representative Skaggs, penalties have not been updated since 1981.
The release says this bill would increase penalties against bad actors five to ten times more than current fines, which are generally a $500 fine for the first and each subsequent violation.
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 and, mirroring federal law, there would be specific enhanced penalties if violations result in death or great bodily harm.
Representative Skaggs says this bill will complement funding allocated in the 2024 budget that, for the first time, creates funding for inspectors to do spot checks, similar to that of a health inspector.
Before this, he explains that reporting was up to whistle blowers and there was no real system in place to hold people accountable.
"It was all whistle blower; it was all self-reporting," says Skaggs. "There was no law enforcement or agency that was looking to make sure that these rules were being followed."
Representative Skaggs explains that the current system is very disorganized and they're working on additional updates. Right now, teens go through the school and their employer, and the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity doesn't know how many teens are actually in the workforce, or even where they're working. Without that knowledge, the Department cannot properly oversee ongoing working conditions.
In a written statement, Rep. Skaggs says, “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."
He goes on to say that, “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.”
Moving forward, this bill will first be heard in committee.