Confirmed: Iowa Child Labor Expansion Violates Federal Law

The child-labor expansion bill passed by Iowa Republican politicians earlier this year and now written into Iowa Code violates federal law, putting young Iowans at risk in dangerous jobs and creating confusing, contradictory rules for Iowa businesses to follow.

That’s the conclusion of a new letter sent by the U.S. Department of Labor in response to questions from Democratic legislators in the Iowa House and Senate. 

The letter, dated August 24, finds that Iowa’s new law violates federal law in two critical ways:

  1. The Iowa law allows 16- and 17-year-olds to operate dangerous power-driven machines, engage in heavy manufacturing, and work in demolition — all of which are prohibited under federal child-labor laws. 
  2. The new Iowa law also does not require 16- and 17-year-olds working in apprenticeship or student-learner roles to be registered by the U.S. Department of Labor or a state agency, which federal law does require. 

The letter makes clear that when state and federal labor laws are in conflict, the law providing the most protection for young people must be followed — in this case, that’s the federal law. 

The Department also pledges to keep an eye out for violations of federal law as Iowa’s child-labor expansion is implemented: “In addition, the Department will continue to monitor Iowa’s implementation of the law to assess potential obstruction of federal child labor protections.” 

“The child-labor expansion forced into law by Republican politicians and Gov. Reynolds sets a trap for Iowa kids and businesses alike,” Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, said. “It makes our kids less safe by exposing them to hazardous environments that could get them injured or even killed—something the legislation itself acknowledged. And now it creates new bureaucratic confusion that can lead employers right into violations of federal law.”

“This letter has a clear message for legislators and employers alike,” Boulton said. “For legislators, it tells us we must fix this bad law and protect kids from dangerous jobs. For employers, it’s a warning not to put their businesses at risk by hiring young people in illegal jobs. More child labor is not the solution to our workforce crisis.”

“Kids’ lives are at risk today because Republican lawmakers passed a bill for the special interests. Not only is it confusing but it proves costly for Iowa businesses just trying to do the right thing,” said Rep. Jeff Cooling, D- Cedar Rapids, Ranking Member of the House Labor & Workforce Committee. “Child labor is not the solution to Iowa’s workforce shortage and it never should be. It’s time to put people, especially our kids, over politics.”

The child-labor expansion bill, Senate File 542, was passed by Republican politicians and signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds in May.

The U.S. Department of Labor had previously sent a letter warning that an earlier version of the bill included violations of federal law. The new guidance examines the language of the bill actually passed into Iowa law.