By The Associated Press

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. August 20, 2023.

Editorial: Don’t roll back child work protections

A proposal to roll back child labor protections in Wisconsin is a bad move and we hope the Legislature will reject it.

The bill, released Friday, would allow children ages 14-15 to get jobs without a work permit or parental permission. It’s an odd stance to take, given how concerned some legislators have been about parental notification for what students read in class. Whether to allow junior to have a job would seem to be the definition of a parental rights issue.

We agree, generally speaking, that youth having the opportunity to have jobs is a good thing. The experience of earning a paycheck is an important step toward adulthood. It’s often a reminder as well about why students need to work hard in school. First jobs are rarely the most rewarding or the most fun, and there’s value in students realizing that they need to do well academically to earn better opportunities.

Current law doesn’t block that opportunity. It simply says the children involved — and ages 14-15 are most definitely still children — need their parents’ permission and a permit that the state can revoke if the child’s safety is being compromised.

The bill’s backers said their effort would improve opportunities for youth to have their first job experiences. But we find considerably more revealing their statement that it would remove “needless administrative barriers that slow down the hiring process.” This is far more about allowing businesses to hire people who aren’t as able to stand up for themselves and who don’t have experience to know what’s safe or acceptable and what’s not.

The timing is particularly troubling. Earlier in 2023 Wisconsin-based Packers Sanitation was fined by the Labor Department. The company was caught employing “at least 100 children, some as young as 13,” according to reports. Those children were cleaning equipment in meat packing plants, including bone saws and skull splitters.

The company claimed it didn’t realize the workers were minors. That’s laughable.

This is also part of a pattern in recent years. We criticized a proposal earlier this year to allow children as young as 14 to work in bars, serving alcohol. The provisions drew on the theory that there’s a wide difference between serving alcohol to someone sitting at a bar and someone sitting five feet away at a table.

Not long ago the restrictions on child labor were even more strict. That changed in 2017, when Wisconsin removed the requirement for work permits for children ages 16 or 17. There’s a better argument for that step, since society trusts teens that age to handle multi-ton vehicles on the roads. There’s a significant difference, both in maturity and physical capabilities, between the average 13-year-old and the average 16-year-old. A lot happens in those years.

Sacrificing child safety as a response to a tight labor market is irresponsible. It’s a step back toward the days when child labor was the standard, rather than child education. In 1900 about 18% of all workers were younger than 16.

Opposition to child labor laws in the early 1900s was driven largely by farm concerns. That’s somewhat understandable, since children have worked on family farms since humans developed agriculture. It wasn’t until the Great Depression hit, creating considerable incentives to remove children from the workforce in favor of adults, that the environment we know now came to be.

Children ages 14 and 15 belong in school, not the workforce. An educated population is a key element of modern economies. Schooling is the only way to achieve that. We cannot sanction throwing away future progress, and these children’s futures, in favor of a short-term fix for industry.


Wisconsin State Journal. August 20, 2023.

Editorial: Tackle climate change before it’s too late

Summer is supposed to shine — not smoke — in Wisconsin.

Yet our state is again under an air quality advisory this weekend as Canadian wildfires push a dangerous haze of pollutants into the northern United States. The smoke irritates people’s eyes and makes it harder to breathe.

“Authorities recommend wearing an N95 mask when outside, especially if for an extended time,” the State Journal reported Thursday.

Try enjoying a hike at Devil’s Lake State Park or waterskiing on Lake Monona with an N95 mask strapped to your face. It’s no fun and ruins the magic of summer for a state enjoying its break from frigid winter.

Wildfires, of course, have been around for centuries. The Peshtigo fire of 1871 killed more than 1,000 people and burned millions of acres in northeastern Wisconsin.

But this is different. Rising global temperatures from greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere are making the weather more erratic and storms more intense.

July was Earth’s hottest month on record, according to NASA. And the last eight years have been the eight hottest, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

The risk from climate change has never been more clear, and the need to cut carbon emissions is urgent. Burning coal and gas releases those emissions, providing greater heat and energy for storms.

A wildfire this month incinerated a city on the island of Maui, destroying more than 2,000 buildings and killing more than 100. Phoenix’s high temperature topped 110 degrees for 31 straight days this summer. It rained more than a foot last month in Vermont, breaking records. The ocean temperature along the Florida coast recently topped 100 degrees, threatening coral and other marine life.

Because of our cold winters, Wisconsin is often cited as a potential “climate haven.” But scientists aren’t sure how a warming planet will affect us here. It’s possible that melting ice on Greenland could collapse an Atlantic Ocean current, plunging Europe into an ice age. That could abruptly hike temperatures in Wisconsin, according to UW-Madison scientists.

The more immediate concern this summer is smoke. With the Canadian wildfires burning longer and more intensely, Wisconsin suffered some of the worst air in the world in late June. The smoky haze forced the cancellation of Concerts on the Square, summer school and a rock concert at Breese Stevens Field in Madison. It also posed risk to wildlife.

Now it’s back again.

Tourism is a $24 billion industry in Wisconsin. People won’t want to travel here if the air makes them cough. Agriculture is a $105 billion industry here. Crops won’t grow if the rain doesn’t fall — or if enormous downfalls wash away topsoil.

Climate change poses enormous risk to our economy and way of life.

The good news is that Wisconsin is heading in the right direction. Our state is lowering its greenhouse gas emissions. Total emissions in Wisconsin peaked in 2005 at about 142 million metric tons and had fallen by 18% to 116 million metric tons by 2020, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

We need to keep going.

Democrats in Washington a year ago wisely approved incentives to speed America’s transition to wind, solar and other clean-energy alternatives. Electric vehicles are more affordable and popular. Home appliances are more efficient.

More Republicans need to embrace the cause or they’ll face the wrath of voters, especially young people who have to live with the consequences. A judge in Montana last week sided with teenagers in a lawsuit demanding state regulators consider the impact on climate change before permitting coal mines and power plants.

The decision shows that progress is possible in the face of increasing natural disasters and political gridlock.

Wisconsin should help lead the way by accelerating its transition to renewable energy. Consumers should use less energy when possible. Voters should demand their leaders in Madison and Washington prioritize policies for a sustainable world.