With child labor violations on the rise, Republican lawmakers want to roll back protections – National & International News – WED 15Feb2023



With child labor violations on the rise, some Republican lawmakers want to roll back protections.

Ohio community urged to use bottled water after toxic train derailment.

Syria: Assad allows more UN aid convoys into rebel stronghold nine days after earthquake.




With child labor violations on the rise, some Republican lawmakers want to roll back protections

Last year, two major companies, meatpacker JBS and automaker Hyundai, found themselves in an unwelcome spotlight for numerous child labor law violations. Hyundai subsidiary SMART Alabama LLC was found to have illegally employed children as young as 12 in its metalworking plant in Luverne, AL. This turned out to be just one of 10 Hyundai and Kia suppliers violating child labor laws in Alabama.

In a separate case, the Labor Department discovered that Packers Sanitation Services, or PSSI, a cleaning subcontractor for JBS, had illegally employed at least 31 minors, aged between 13 and 17, to do dangerous overnight work. The cleaners use caustic chemicals, and at least one underage worker suffered severe burns. The Labor Department also accused PSSI of interfering in the investigation. PSSI allegedly altered or deleted employment records and intimidated underage workers to discourage them from cooperating with the probe.

Republican-led statehouses want more child labor

Republican lawmakers in Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio are now introducing legislation that would relax restrictions on child labor. Wisconsin’s GOP-led legislature recently passed a measure to expand legal working hours for 14 and 15-year-olds, but the state’s Democratic Governor Tony Evers vetoed it. All these states are experiencing labor shortages in certain industries as adult workers have moved on to seek more competitive wages elsewhere. GOP lawmakers defend opening the child labor market as a way to fill the gaps without raising wages. 

Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio all seek to expand the number of hours an underage worker can work and relax restrictions on how late they can work. The bills in Iowa and Minnesota also want to lift restrictions on kids working dangerous jobs. The Minnesota bill would allow 16 and 17-year-olds to work construction.

In Iowa, children are prohibited from working in slaughterhouses, meatpacking or rendering plants; mining; operating power-driven metal forming, punching or shearing machines; operating band or circular saws, guillotine shears or paper balers; or working in roofing or demolition. However, Iowa’s new bill sets up a clever workaround to allow kids aged 14 to 17 to work in these dangerous jobs by designating their employment as a “work-based learning” program. The bill would also shield employers from lawsuits if kids are killed or injured doing these dangerous jobs.

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Ohio community urged to use bottled water after toxic train derailment

Officials fear that a Feb. 3 train derailment and a subsequent controlled release and burn of toxic chemicals may have contaminated the water in East Palestine, OH. The train was carrying 6 cars full of vinyl chloride, an industrial chemical known to cause rare liver cancers. Experts say the burn of the vinyl chloride may have also released dioxins. These are long-cancerous environmental pollutants. 

Ahead of the burn, authorities evacuated the surrounding area. Residents got the all clear to come home last Thursday. But since then, at least 3,500 fish have died off in local lakes and waterways. Locals have also reported rescue foxes and cats suddenly becoming sick and dying. Officials have also confirmed contamination of local waterways, though they initially said this wasn’t a concern. However, a 2019 assessment found that local aquifers had a greater danger of contamination because of a lack of protective clay.

Bruce Vanderhoff, the director of Ohio’s Department of Health, has downplayed these concerns. Nevertheless, Vanderhoff urged residents, especially those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or feeding formula to use bottled water until a full contamination assessment can be done. 

The railroad company in question, Norfolk-Southern, has said it will be digging test wells around the area to monitor the groundwater. Initially, Norfolk-Southern, a company worth $55 billion, offered to cut the town a check for $25,000- $5 for each of East Palestine’s 5000 inhabitants. 

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More: How Norfolk-Southern and other rail companies blocked safety regulations before the derailment (opens in new tab).



Syria: Assad allows more UN aid convoys into rebel stronghold days after earthquake

The death toll of the earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria last Monday has risen to over 41,000. The shambolic disaster response by Turkey’s government has been widely criticized. But across the border in war torn Syria, the response has been even slower to materialize. This is in part because of the civil war that has been going on in Syria since 2010. Over the last few years, the fight has narrowed to the northern part of the country. There, the government of Bashar Al-Assad, with support from Russian military and mercenary forces, has been fighting to retake Syria’s last remaining rebel stronghold. Four million of the people living in this enclave already relying on aid for their survival even before the quake.

The rescue and recovery process in government-held areas has been arduous. In the rebel-held areas, aid groups and even humanitarian convoys have largely been kept out. The rebels blame Assad for the blockade, while Assad blames the rebels.

It wasn’t until three days after the quake that the first UN aid arrived through the single crossing into the rebel-held area through Turkey. The US and UN have been urging Assad to open more crossing points into the rebel-held areas since the quake happened. Yesterday, the first UN aid convoys finally entered through a newly-opened crossing point. Assad has agreed to open two more crossing points for a total of four.

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