SIOUX CITY — At least two dozen, students, teachers, local union members and political figures all showed up to the front lawn of the Sioux City Public Museum on Saturday afternoon to speak out against a singular issue.
Attendees came to denounce proposed bills in Iowa which, if passed into law, would overhaul current child labor protections in the respective states.
One provision of the legislation would let teens as young as 14 request waivers from state workforce directors to do apprenticing in mines and construction while another would give immunity from civil liability if a child is injured, becomes ill or dies on a so-called "work-based learning program" job.
The rally was organized by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 222 union members who brought signs saying "Learners not earners" and "Iowa kids are not for sale."
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J.D. Scholten, behind left, and Trisha Etringer, behind center, stand with children and families at protest against a new bill that would over…
One of the event's speakers, Jae Vazquez, is herself a student at Sioux City North High School.
During her time at the microphone, Vazquez ran through a litany of concerns she had about the possible effects of scrapping present protections and granting waivers to those as young as age 14 to work as an apprentice in factories.
"Grades will likely suffer," Vazquez said at one point. "If anything bad happens to your child, you will get, at most, $10,000." (Iowa House File 647, which proposes the work changes, notes there are now civil penalties up to $10,000 for employers who violate the relevant Iowa Code but such fines could be reduced by state officials if the legislation passes.)
According to pediatricians with Johns Hopkins Medicine, teenagers need at least nine-to-nine-and-a-half hours of sleep each night. Vazquez said the labor legislation becoming law could threaten a sleep schedule crucial to cognitive development and maturation.
"Teens already do not get enough sleep," she said.
Vazquez ended her turn at the microphone by talking about her father having to retire at age 40 because of health issues and that becoming the norm if more people are able to work intensive jobs at younger and younger ages.
"I don't want to see 30 and 40-year-olds, unable to work, and in severe chronic pain, because they started work at 14," Vazquez said.
Jae Vazquez, a student at Sioux City North High School speaks during a protest against a new bill that would overall the child labor laws in Iowa.
UFCW Local 222 Treasurer Jaylee Hurst also dedicated the lion's share of her time talking to the crowd about the potential long-term effects of HF647 and Senate File 542.
Each Workers Memorial Day (April 28), union members across Iowa will gather at various chapters to read the names of every single laborer who died while working that year and ring a bell for them.
"We are not going to tolerate (those) names to include children," Hurst said, her voice wavering.
A December 2018 story from the Washington Post found that 452 children died on the job in the U.S. between 2003 and 2016.
In the early years of the 20th Century, before America had a multitude of child labor laws in place, kids in certain professions (mining) were three times more likely to die than adults doing the same work (per a figure cited by the Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Trisha Etringer, Siouxland Project Director for the Great Plains Action Society, said she doesn't want to see a return to those times when cheap labor from poor families was widely sought.
"History is going to repeat itself, these child labor law protections were put into place for a reason," Etringer said.
Trisha Etringer, Siouxland Project Director for the Great Plains Action Society speaks during a protest against a new bill that would overall …
After the event wrapped, House District 1 Rep. J.D. Scholten, D-Sioux City, told the Journal the end goal of the current legislative push to scrap certain restrictions was for business owners to profit.
"There's ways to profit where it benefits society," Scholten said. "And going in this direction is not the right way."
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Scholten said such pushes are possible because of a drastic power imbalance when it comes to lobbying during the lawmaking process. "These multinational corporations are having their way when it comes to politics, and they have way too much power right now."
A number of business-related groups, such as the Iowa Restaurant Association, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, and Americans for Prosperity (the Charles Koch-funded conservative advocacy organization) have made lobbyist declarations for the legislation. Those opposed include: the Iowa State Education Association, the Iowa Nurses Association and the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund.
Similar rallies were held Saturday in Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Iowa City, Keokuk and Peosta, Iowa.
Jae Vazquez, student at Sioux City North High School, speaks during a protest against a new bill that would overall the child labor laws in Io…