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Congressman questions DOL proposal to loosen restrictions on teen workers and hazardous jobs

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Washington — A leading Democratic congressman is questioning why the Department of Labor wants to expand the number of hazardous jobs available to 16- and 17-year-olds.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, wrote a letter to Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta on May 23 inquiring about a proposed rule on the Spring 2018 regulatory agenda, Expanding Apprenticeship and Employment Opportunities to 16 and 17-Year Olds Under the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act).

FLSA prohibits 16- and 17-year-old workers from performing certain hazardous jobs outside of the agricultural industry, but provides limited exemptions for apprentices and student learners working “under certain conditions,” the regulatory agenda entry states.

In a notice of proposed rulemaking slated for publication in October, DOL is planning to consider whether Hazardous Occupations Orders “should be updated to reflect the current economic and work environments and to allow for safe and meaningful apprenticeship opportunities and student-learner programs.”

According to Ellison’s letter, 17 Hazardous Occupations Orders restrict younger workers in areas such as coal mining or fighting forest fires. He also states that because of those laws, work-related deaths among teens have dropped to 27 a year in 2015 and 2016 from 72.5 a year in 1999 and 2000.

“Rolling back these regulations could jeopardize the safety of America’s youth and lead to an increase in the rate of workplace injuries, or even death, for underage workers,” Ellison wrote.

Ellison concludes his letter with a series of questions for Acosta, requesting a response by June 6.

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