Worker Advocates Take Aim at Restaurant Industry Support for Loosening Child-Labor Laws


The National Restaurant Association is facing criticism from One Fair Wage, an advocacy group for restaurant workers, for backing legislation to ease child labor restrictions at both state and federal levels. One Fair Wage campaigns for an end to subminimum wages for tipped workers and claims that these wages have contributed to staffing shortages in the industry. In a new report, One Fair Wage alleges that the National Restaurant Association has responded to labor shortages by supporting efforts to weaken child labor protections.

 By doing so, teenagers are taking the place of adults who are no longer willing to work for subminimum and poverty wages. One Fair Wage plans to raise minimum pay in 25 states by 2026 through legislation and ballot initiatives and plans to hold an event outside the restaurant trade show on Monday. 

The National Restaurant Association did not respond to a request for comment. Bills to relax child-labor laws have been introduced in at least 10 states between 2021 and early 2023, supported by a mix of business trade associations. The new report from One Fair Wage highlights examples of bills supported by state-level restaurant associations in Iowa and Wisconsin to extend work hours for 14- and 15-year-olds, and in Iowa to also allow 16- and 17-year-olds to serve alcohol in restaurants with parental permission. The Wisconsin bill was vetoed by Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, in February 2022. 

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