Thursday, October 30, 2003

Aiming for the Amish?

The United Food and Commerical Workers union is mounting a legislative offensive against legislation, HR 1943 and S 974, that would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow Amish children as young as 14 to work in sawmills for religious reasons.

This issue was covered a couple of weeks ago in a lengthy article in the New York Times (which you are downloading from the Taipai Times because the @#$@# Times charges for web articles after a week.)
"This is the 21st century," said John R. Fraser, who headed the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division in the Clinton administration and opposed the Amish exemption when it was first proposed in the late 1990s. "We should certainly respect and tolerate religious and cultural beliefs that date from centuries ago, but it would be irresponsible and dangerous to begin to tolerate 17th- and 18th-century practices with respect to child labor."

But while child-labor opponents seek to keep teenagers away from hazardous machinery, the Amish have an additional goal: to keep those teenagers busy with gainful work and so away from hazardous enticements.
In a letter to Congress, UFCW argues that
This legislation would undermine the existing child labor laws in a direct and simple manner. It would create a loophole in the existing law by permitting Amish youth as young as 14 years of age to be employed in Amish owned sawmills.

There are numerous problems with this proposal. It undercuts the existing child labor laws; it opens up what is already one of the most dangerous industries for adults; it has potential constitutional problems regarding the First and Fourteenth Amendments; and it would lead to unequal treatment of Amish-owned sawmills vis-à-vis non-Amish-owned sawmills. In addition, it would lead to the difficult and confusing situation of Department of Labor inspectors trying to verify the religious faith of the owners and the youth involved in potential child labor violations.
If your group would like to sign on to a letter opposing this legislation, please contact Tim Schlittner ( or Michael J. Wilson ( by this Friday October 31.