Child Labor: Employers Face Few Consequences

We need to protect these children.  Instead, we are seeing Child Labor go largely unchecked, they are being exploited at every turn with little or no real consequences to the employers.  The Charlotte Observer reports in this two part series about a local victim, Nery Castañeda a Guatemala native, who was trying to tackle a job that was never intended for a kid his age.

Charlotte Observer

One afternoon last fall, the 17-year-old ran a machine to grind damaged pallets into mulch. When a co-worker at the Greensboro plant returned from another task, he didn’t see Nery – until he looked inside the shredder. “A person shouldn’t die like this,” said older brother Luis. “…He came with a dream and found death.”

Decades after the enactment of regulations designed to prevent such tragedies, thousands of youths still get hurt on American jobs deemed unsafe for young workers. On a typical day, more than 400 juvenile workers are injured on the job. Once every 10 days, on average, a worker under the age of 18 is killed, federal statistics show.

“There are lots of kids being asked to do work that’s been prohibited for them – and it’s been prohibited because it’s dangerous,” said Carol Runyan, who heads UNC’s Injury Prevention Research Center. “…Our system is failing them.”

More than 3 million youths under age 18 have jobs. Regulations prohibit them from doing a variety of hazardous jobs, including most meat-processing work.

A study of 16- and 17-year-old construction workers in North Carolina, published in 2006, found that more than 80 percent did tasks that were clearly prohibited. A national survey of young retail and service workers, published in 2007, found that more than half of males and more than 40 percent of females performed prohibited tasks.

Even more horrifying is that, there are such small penalties that employers have to pay and that’s only if they get caught.  There is no real determent for these companies to stop using child labor.

Federal law allows a maximum penalty of $11,000 for each violation, but in 2006 the average penalty was less than $1,000, according to the National Consumers League. Total federal penalties for child labor violations dropped 29 percent from 2000 to 2007.

Under N.C. law, the maximum penalty for each violation is $250. When employers fail to ensure juvenile workers get youth employment certificates, the maximum fine is $50 for each violation. That “doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of deterrent,” says N.C. wage and hour director Jim Taylor, whose office is in charge of enforcing.

In South Carolina, the maximum penalty for violations is $1,000 per person per job.

Nery started working for Pallet Express, who has been cited numerous times for OSHA violations, in June 2007.  They knew how old he was when they hired him, because he had presented his ID.

Several months into the job, he was asked to operate the pallet shredder, a massive machine that turned damaged pallets into mulch.

On the day of the accident, Nery’s co-worker stepped away to get a forklift, Luis said. By the time the co-worker returned, Castañeda had been devoured by the shredder.

N.C. OSHA cited the company for eight serious violations, including its failure to put required safety guards on the machine. The agency fined Pallet Express $12,000. The state labor department has also fined the company $250 for putting a juvenile without a youth employment certificate in a hazardous job he shouldn’t have been doing.

This is just inexcuseable.  The fine should be more than $11,000 and carry a criminal penalty.  I bet that would stop most of the illegal child labor.   My heart goes out to Nery’s family for their loss.  You have my deepest sympathy.

4 thoughts on “Child Labor: Employers Face Few Consequences

  1. It’s unconscionable that this systematized child abuse goes unpunished. What a paltry value we place in human, and a child’s life.

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