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Wisconsin Senate bill would allow some teens to work later hours

Right now teens can only work until 7pm during school, but the proposal would extend that to 9:30pm during the school year.
Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 10:09 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 19, 2021 at 10:22 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A Republican sponsored bill moving through the Wisconsin State Legislature would allow some teens to work later. The author of the bill, State Senator Mary Felzkowski says it’s aimed at creating more opportunities for kids while also helping small businesses deal with a nationwide worker shortage.

Cleaning up from the lunch rush on Capitol Square, business owner Maggie Richter is packing up her restaurant on wheels, El Burrito Loco. Including herself, three people work on the food truck.

“Right now its really hard to find workers. A lot of people can’t find workers,” said Richter.

Richter says she takes her business on the road because she’s short workers at her brick and mortar restaurant.

Meanwhile inside the Capitol, State Senator Felzkowski hopes a bill she is authoring will help grow the employee pool for some of Wisconsin’s smallest businesses.

“This is just really small mom and pops,” said Felzkowski. “This affects small businesses who employ 5 or under. And it really affects children that are minors under the age of 16.”

Current law does not allow 14 and 15-year-olds to work later than 7 p.m. from after Labor Day until May 31 and no later than 9 p.m. over the summer.

The bill would allow employees under age 16 to work until 9:30 p.m. before a school day and up until 11 p.m. when they don’t have school the next day. The changes would not affect businesses covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which includes those with annual sales over $500,000.

“It’s a great opportunity for these young people to get some work experience. How else do you get going? This is about opportunity for young people. We’re not talking about unrealistic hours. It’s still very controlled hours. It’s not hours they don’t put in for extracurricular activities after school, and I hope common sense prevails and we don’t let it become a political football,” said Felzkowski.

The measure is backed by Republicans and the state’s hotel, restaurant and grocery industries, but opposed by Democrats and the Wisconsin AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO opposes the measure, saying it rolls back child labor protection laws and supporters have not shown why the change is needed.

“I guess 11 is too much for me. I don’t know how other business owners feel but I think 11 is too pushy,” said Richter.

Richter says she could see how this could help small shops struggling to hire, but for her, she’s also a parent and sees things differently.

“They have a lot of things to compromise with the school. I don’t want my kids to be behind, I want my kids to sleep good. Weekends I can see maybe Friday, Saturday, it’s okay. But longer until 9:30 or 9, 9:30 is the most because the kids are young,” said Richter.

Democratic state lawmakers are weighing in as well.

“Allowing high schoolers to pile on more hours isn’t going to solve the endemic issues with workers. Wisconsin needs real solutions to help workers succeed: livable wages, affordable childcare, healthcare, transit to jobs – not empty rhetoric or lowering child labor law standards,” says State Senator Kelda Roys.

And State Senator Chris Larson says, “Looser child labor laws are not the answer to labor shortages - good pay and benefits and safer working conditions are. A child’s primary responsibility is their education. They’re better off investing in themselves and their future than working longer and later hours as a teenager.”

The bill is up for a vote Wednesday in the Senate. If the Senate passes the bill, it would then go to the Assembly. It would also have to be signed by Gov. Tony Evers before becoming law.

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