Learning the Business – Florida House Votes to Allow More Teen Labor on Construction Sites – An Orlando Weekly Article

The Law Offices of John Caravella, P.C. does not own this content. This content was created by , and was published to Orlando Weekly on Feb 29th, 2024. To view the full article, please click here.

The Florida House on Wednesday voted in favor of a controversial bill that would allow teenagers 16 and older to work jobs on residential construction sites, at the behest of industry groups that wrote the legislation.

Members of the Republican-dominated Florida House voted 84-30 to approve the bill (HB 917), with most Democrats opposed. Democratic State Reps. David Silvers, Katherine Waldron and Lisa Dunkley crossed party lines to vote in favor of the bill, while GOP Rep. Mike Beltran was the only member of his party to vote the bill down.

Democratic State Rep. Johanna López, a former teacher and Orange County school board member elected to the House in 2022, not only voted in favor of the bill — which largely concerns Career and Technical Education programs in schools — but signed on to co-sponsor the legislation literally nine minutes before it passed.

López, who represents parts of Orange County, *did not respond to our emailed request for comment on her vote or co-sponsorship of the bill, which has been criticized for rolling back child labor protections. Democratic Rep. Susan Valdes, who previously voted in favor of the legislation during committee stops, changed her vote on the House floor to “No.”

House Bill 917, filed by GOP Rep. John Snyder, has raised alarm bells for a short section of the bill that would ease restrictions on the types of work older teens are legally permitted to do in construction.

Most jobs in construction are considered “hazardous occupations” that are barred to minors under federal and state law, with limited exceptions for students of government-approved student learner programs or apprenticeships.

Snyder described the goal of his bill earlier this month as “opening a pathway” for older teens who don’t plan on going to college and wish to pursue work in the trades. Critics have blasted the proposal as just plain dangerous and unnecessary.

“I’m familiar with construction job sites, and job sites — even residential job sites — are dangerous,” Jim Junecko, a certified tower crane operator, said during public testimony on the bill earlier this month. “We don’t need a 16-year-old kid — that’s what they are, they’re kids at age 16 — on a job site.”

The construction industry drives the highest number of unlicensed activity complaints in the state, and is the deadliest industry for youth nationwide, behind agriculture. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, construction is also one of the most common industries in which child labor violations occur already, in addition to wage theft — which the state of Florida does not have a good track record on combating.

Supporters of the legislation have desperately attempted to downplay the provision of the bill affecting child labor standards — which admittedly makes up just a small section of the 26-page bill.

They’ve also defended the bill by pointing to proposed “safeguards” that are meant to help increase safety for teens on the job.

Under the proposal, teens aged 16 and older would need to obtain OSHA-10 certification (a 10-hour training course) to work in residential construction, and would have to work directly under the supervision of someone at least 21 years old who has received the same certification and has at least two years’ work experience.

The bill has been amended to remove the legalization of non-administrative work on commercial construction sites. Like its Senate companion, the bill also now clarifies that minors would not be permitted on any roofs, ladders, scaffolding, or superstructures more than six feet off the ground (so, nope, no more teen roofers).

Workers in the trades, however, have argued these “safeguards” to protect kids on the job are insufficient. “To see in this bill that you don’t even need someone to have a journeyman with you while you’re doing this job, and it’s just someone who has taken their OSHA 10, is very worrying,” said trades apprentice Kevin Lawhorn, 19, during a committee stop for the Senate bill last week.

“If I would have started maybe three years ago, and no journeyman …” the 19-year-old paused, then continued, “I don’t know how I would be today, if I would have been injured, if I would even be here. It’s a very dangerous job.”

There are also very few people involved with oversight to ensure construction companies and contractors are following the law as it exists now.

The agency in charge with regulating child labor in Florida told Orlando Weekly in December that they have just seven personnel dedicated to enforcing child labor standards, covering thousands of job-sites statewide.

Federal investigators, employed by an agency that’s been nearly flat-funded by Congress over the last decade, are also dealing with historically low staffing levels, as the Biden administration scrambles to implement a stronger action plan to combat child labor violations.

To view the full article, please click here.

John Caravella, Esq

John Caravella Esq., is a construction attorney and formerly practicing project architect at The Law Office of John Caravella, P.C., representing architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and owners in all phases of contract preparation, litigation, and arbitration across New York and Florida. He also serves as an arbitrator to the American Arbitration Association Construction Industry Panel. Mr. Caravella can be reached by email: [email protected] or (631) 608-1346.

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The Law Offices of John Caravella, P.C. does not own this content. This content was created by , and was published to Orlando Weekly on Feb 29th, 2024. To view the full article, please click here.


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