A group of women farmworkers from Homestead, a major agricultural area in South Florida, traveled to Tallahassee on Tuesday to say they want their kids to have opportunities to further their education rather than toil in the fields.
But legislation moving through the state House would roll back child labor restrictions to allow minors to work longer hours. This Thursday, the Florida House will vote on, and most likely approve of, HB 49, which would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work more than eight hours per day and more than 30 hours a week during the school year.
Employers could give 16- and 17-year-olds fewer breaks under the House proposal.
“What’s best for our kids is that they study to be able to defend themselves in life, so that they don’t have to work in the fields under the sun all the time. We don’t want them to pass out from heat illness or suffer debilitating injuries; we want them to be healthy,” said Sandra Diaz, one of the workers with The Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc.
She continued: “We want our kids to be more successful than we are. Some of us are not professionals, but we want our kids to be.”
Meanwhile, the Florida Senate’s companion bill, SB 1596, just had its first hearing on Tuesday morning. Republican Sen. Danny Burgess said his legislation proposed narrower changes. While his bill keeps the current eight and 30-hour cap on the daily and weekly hours the minors can work, it allows them to clock in as early as 5:30 a.m. and clock out as late as midnight on school nights. Currently, the limits are 6:30 a.m. and 11 p.m.
“A lot of people get spun up on bills that are not on this side in this chamber and get excited about a House bill potentially that looks fairly similar, but it’s not at all the same. … These are not the same bills, and [Burgess’] bill does, I think, strike a balance and gives children and parents an opportunity to be able to operate and work in a post-COVID environment,” Panhandle Republican Sen. Jay Trumbull said during the Commerce and Tourism Committee meeting. He chairs the committee, which approved the proposal.
While critics of the Senate bill conceded that it was better than the House proposal, they still urged the senators to oppose it. Immigrant rights advocates also pointed out that the bills mentioned above and another Senate proposal easing construction work restrictions for minors come a year after Florida enacted a sweeping anti-immigration law. Since July, Florida has cracked down on employers hiring undocumented immigrants.
In 2021, noncitizen immigrants accounted for 34 percent of Florida’s agricultural workforce and 23 and 14 percent in the construction and service industries, respectively, according to health policy nonprofit KFF.
During committee meetings in 2024, lobbyists for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida said they wrote provisions of the Senate proposal to roll back restrictions in the construction industry. That proposal has been changed to remove provisions allowing teens to work on commercial and residential roofs.
David Metellus, the policy and politics director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said, “We have a sort of labor shortage, and instead of expanding access to everybody, we’re depending on young people, and it’s exploitative. Young people, they can’t advocate for themselves.”
Children whose parents are undocumented may be more likely to enter the workforce because their family needs the extra income in light of the stronger restrictions for undocumented workers, Metellus said.
“We’re very concerned about young people, especially from disadvantaged families, going into this space where they’re working extended hours,” he said. “It may help the family, but it’s going to impact their schoolwork. In the long term, it’s going to limit their prospects, limit their ability to be productive members of society just for a short-term sort of boost.”
The women with The Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc. said the agriculture industry can be particularly rough on minors because of long exposure to the sun, competition among harvesters and the physical demands of the job.
“Our worry is that a minor is inexperienced and more easily intimidated than adults who can make decisions to protect their health,” said Claudia Gonzalez, the Homestead Area Organizer for the association.
Democrats have filed several amendments to HB 49 that could modify the proposal on Thursday in the House. One of those amendments wants employers of minors who work outdoors to implement plans to prevent heat illness.
Republicans have pushed back on the criticism of the child labor laws, saying they’re not forcing kids to work longer hours.
“We can all have differences of opinion, and I totally respect and understand that. But there’s been some abysmal rhetoric around this bill, and I’m not referring to necessarily today, just in general,” Burgess said. “Look at what’s before us, and if there’s other things we need to look into related to child exploitation in different legislation, let’s do it. But what we have before us is a very simple, surgical tactical approach to just ensuring that we’re recognizing a fluid world where kids, especially homeschooled kids like mine, might be able to have some flexibility.”
Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: email@example.com. Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here