Top Democrats Question DOL’s Decision to Rely on Unscientific, Undisclosed Data to Change Child Labor Laws

WASHINGTON – Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03), the top Democrat on the Committee on Education and the Workforce, Congressman Mark Takano (CA-41), the top Democrat on the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), and Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) questioned the Department of Labor’s failure to publicly disclose unscientific data used to justify a proposed rollback of child labor standards.

In a letter to Secretary Alexander Acosta, the Members said the proposed change would remove important safeguards for nursing home workers and patients by allowing untrained teenagers to operate power-driven patient lifts —despite evidence of the dangers to patients and teenage workers.

A 2011 analysis by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that many 16- and 17-year-old employees do not have the physical strength or appreciation of risk needed to safely operate patient lifts independently.  According to NIOSH, these young workers may, however, be able to safely work as part of a team where the other caregiver is at least 18 years old. Rather than heeding expert warnings, DOL’s proposed rule relies on an unscientific survey, conducted via Survey Monkey. 

“Pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Department is required to determine whether this work is particularly hazardous to workers at this age or detrimental to their health and well-being,” the Members wrote. “In making this determination, the Department rejects the 2011 NIOSH findings and recommendations; instead, the Department relies, in part, on [survey referenced in] a seemingly unfinalized version of a fact sheet from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's ‘Teens at Work Project’ to assert an adverse impact on training opportunities, rather than safety. . . The fact sheet was not made publicly available until October 3, 2018, and the underlying survey is still not available in the Department’s rulemaking docket.”     

In the letter, Members noted the Trump administration’s use of the Survey Monkey data may violate the Department’s data quality guidelines.  They urged DOL to disclose the survey and provide the public with adequate opportunity to examine the data by extending the comment period by at least 30 days.

The letter follows the Members’ previous call for a reversal of the Department’s proposal, stating that repealing restrictions on teens’ use of patient lifts “could endanger the safety of young workers and the patients they serve.”

To read the full text of the letter, click here.


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