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Profile: Laura Harper
Laura Harper was a participant or observer in the following events:
Maine State Representative David Burns (R-Whiting) introduces a child labor bill that would allow employers to pay workers under 20 years of age a $5.25/hour “training wage.” Such a law would go against Maine’s minimum wage of $7.50/hour. Critics say that Burns’s proposal devalues young workers, and takes money out of the hands of laborers and gives it to business. Burns’s proposal is part of a larger package he presents, LD 1346, which would make a number of changes to Maine’s child labor laws, including lifting restrictions that limit the maximum hours a minor over the age of 16 can work during school days. Burns calls his legislation “empowering” for young workers, and says employers would be more apt to hire minors if they could pay them the smaller wage. “An employer’s got to have employees, so they can decide what they want to pay,” he says. “The student wants to have a job, and they can decide what they’re willing to work for.” Maine Democrats and labor advocates have come out strongly against the bill. Maine Democratic Party chairman Ben Grant accuses Burns of “trying to erase the progress of child labor laws.” The bill, if passed, would roll back wages earned by teens to a point not seen since the 1980s. Laura Harper of the Maine Women’s Lobby says the bill would undermine efforts to “teach teens the value of hard work.” Instead, she says, the bill “sends them the message that they aren’t valued. That doesn’t fit with Maine values. At a time when business leaders recognize that student achievement is critical to Maine’s economic growth, this bill will shortchange students and impair Maine’s economic success.” She cites a 2000 US Department of Labor study that showed “working a limited number of hours in the junior and senior years of high school has a positive effect on educational attainment.” Representative Timothy Driscoll (D-Westbrook) says the bill, and another measure in Maine’s Senate, would result in “kids working more hours during the school week and making less money.” [Bangor Daily News, 3/30/2011] Think Progress reporter Ian Millhiser observes: “Burns’s bill is particularly insidious, because it directly encourages employers to hire children or teenagers instead of adult workers. Because workers under 20 could be paid less than adults under this GOP proposal, minimum wage workers throughout Maine would likely receive a pink slip as their 20th birthday present so that their boss could replace them with someone younger and cheaper.” Millhiser notes that Burns’s proposal is just one of a number efforts that would dramatically roll back child labor restrictions (see January 4, 2011 and February 14, 2011). [Think Progress, 3/31/2011] The Maine House Labor Committee will reject the bill on a unanimous vote that will come without discussion. Burns will not be present for the vote. Another proposal loosening work restrictions for 16- and 17-year-olds is pending in the Maine Senate. [Lewiston/Auburn Sun Journal, 5/6/2011]
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