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Wisconsin May Let Teens Work Without Permit

kwangmoo, flickr
For many teens, their first job is in the food industry

A Senate committee held a public hearing Wednesday on a bill that would remove the work permit requirement for 16 and 17-year-olds in Wisconsin. Supporters of the plan say it would eliminate red tape, while opponents say they’re concerned about the teens’ safety.

Wisconsin restaurants have employed many 16 and 17-year-olds over the years, according to Ed Lump. He’s president of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

Lump says the teens are crucial to the success of the industry, and he says, it’s a great first job. “We do believe that they learn a lot working in restaurants, skills in dealing with people, counting money and things like that,” he says.

Lump calls the current Wisconsin law archaic. It requires minors get a work permit and have their parents sign it. He says the young applicants pay for the permit and then the employer reimburses them.

“It seems to us just a bureaucratic maze you have to go through and pay a fee to get a piece of paper that doesn’t really do much for them or anybody else. We think this would just make it easier for them to get jobs,” he says.

“This law has worked for more than 100 years and we’re concerned that this will be a slippery slope to weaken child labor laws in Wisconsin," Stephanie Bloomingdale says. She's with the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, one of the state’s largest labor unions, and opposes the measure.

Bloomingdale says some jobs may call for parental discretion. “They may be asked to drive a forklift which is prohibited or work on a roof or do the cutting of meat which is very dangerous and it requires a lot of skills to do that. We’re concerned that parents aren’t going to know what kind of work their children are going to be engaged in,” she says.

Bloomingdale says in addition, the state could suffer a big loss of revenue, if it does away with the permits. Each year, the state issues hundreds of thousands of them at $10 a pop.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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