HARRISBURG – Legislation sponsored by Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh) that would help protect minors in Pennsylvania from being exploited by unscrupulous employers was the focus of a hearing conducted by the House Labor and Industry Committee today.
House Bill 1714
would increase the penalties for the most serious child labor law violations and require cross-reporting of such cases to further protect vulnerable children.
“The number of labor law cases involving minors is on the rise due to the failure of the federal government to resolve the illegal immigration crisis,” said Mackenzie. “This is primarily a child welfare issue, and my bill is only one piece of the puzzle. Our goal is to protect all children, whether they are U.S. citizens or unaccompanied foreign nationals.”
Mackenzie testified that federal officials have noted a 70% increase in child labor violations over the past five years, and state officials indicated in September that the Department of Labor and Industry has opened 276% more child labor cases since January than it did during the same period a year ago.
“I believe a major driver in the rise of more serious violations is the exploitation of unaccompanied children who were placed across the United States by the federal government. These children are foreign nationals who crossed the border unaccompanied by any parent, guardian, or responsible adult,” Mackenzie told the committee.
“Unaccompanied children – many younger than 14 – have been found cleaning blades in food factories, deboning chickens, working in slaughterhouses, making sweat socks, producing snacks we find in our grocery stores, and manufacturing auto parts used in American cars,” added Mackenzie.
Mackenzie noted several national news outlets, including the New York Times and Reuters, have reported the plight of unaccompanied children in this country, where about 263,000 of them were placed with sponsors by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during 2021-22.
Dauphin County Social Services for Children and Youth is seeing a growing number of cases involving unaccompanied minors, according to Administrator Marisa McClellan.
“The kids are coming here for labor purposes – to send money back to their families. They either end up working, or they end up involved in sex trafficking,” McClellan testified. “We are seeing youth who are working in clear violation of child labor laws and who are undocumented and unaccompanied.”
House Bill 1714 would make the following changes to Pennsylvania’s Child Labor Act:
• A violation would be a second-degree misdemeanor if the violation was willful, and the employer knew or should have known the child was without proper parental supervision and took advantage of the situation.
• The Department of Labor and Industry would be required, when applicable, to cross-report violations to appropriate federal and child welfare authorities, ensuring an at-risk minor is removed from a dangerous working or living situation.
• An annual report would be required to detail the nature of violations, the locations, and the industries where violations are most frequently occurring.
“Cross-reporting can be a valuable tool in holding the adults who commit these violations accountable, but it is also crucial that the traumatized children who are found in these workplaces are not penalized for being victims of abuse,” said Lisa Kane Brown, a child advocate attorney, in her written testimony. “The criminal penalties in the bill are significant and warranted. They also provide an opportunity to hold violators accountable, act as a deterrent, and, I would suggest, the monetary penalties could provide needed funding for these victims to receive care.”
“All of us need to take this issue seriously and come together on a solution to ensure the safety of these most vulnerable children who are currently being failed by the people and institutions that are supposed to protect them,” concluded Mackenzie.
Mackenzie currently serves as Republican chairman of the House Labor and Industry Committee.
Representative Ryan Mackenzie
187th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Andy Briggs