Labor Organizer: Gov. Reynolds, Please Let Iowa’s Kids Be Kids

Union groups rally against a bill to rollback Iowa’s child labor laws. Starting Line Staff Photo

One wonders at this point what kind of state Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is trying to leave her 11 grandchildren. They may not have access to our historically strong public schools under Reynolds, but at least they can work more, at younger ages, and in increasingly dangerous conditions, should Reynolds, a hostage to radical, experimental ideologies with our kids as laboratory test subjects, get her way on child labor rollbacks.

It’s starting to look a heck of a lot more like the 1880s than the 1980s in our state. It’s certainly not the Iowa the Greatest Generation fought and died, and worked and sacrificed, to leave to us. In just weeks Reynolds has detonated what we’ve built over a century and a half. The sweep of her destruction is eye-popping, and it’s barely March.

This week, Reynolds’ Republican legislative allies are ushering yet another child-experimentation bill through the Iowa House and Senate. This one, Senate File 167 (or HSB 134), rolls back child labor protections and seeks to expand the kinds of work 14- and 15-year-olds can do as well as ratcheting up the hours they can spend doing it. Can’t attract adult employees to Iowa with a radical agenda? No problem, put the kids to work.

There’s no need to worry about the book banners taking Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” out of our schools. More kids will actually be living Sinclair’s narrative of poverty and dangerous child labor conditions in Kim Reynolds’ Iowa, which the governor is shaping into something of a junior varsity Mississippi.

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What in the world is going on in Iowa?

Why can’t Reynolds just let kids be kids?

I mean, sure, working as a teen is a rite of passage. We all did it. I worked in a restaurant, a video store (look it up, Gen Z), and an insurance company in Council Bluffs, along with other odd jobs here and there. They were mostly great experiences, where I learned how to show up on time, take orders, work hard, and save money for college. 

But it’s also where I was sexually harassed for the first time, by a creepy manager who obviously had a thing for underage girls. It happens. I learned some valuable life lessons, albeit not necessarily the ones my parents had hoped I’d learn. You want to see those lessons get even tougher? Add alcohol and late hours by letting 16-year-old girls tend bar. And YES, that’s in the bill. 

But wait…I thought the idea was to protect our kids and do better for the next generation than we had for ourselves. Isn’t that what we’ve always been told?

Look, I don’t know everything about kids these days, but I do know they face daily challenges very different from ours.

So it is with every generation. My parents faced war and polio, we had the Cold War, and now they have social media, cyberbullying, a global pandemic, and more.

It’s a full plate.

They can be exposed to more in 30 minutes of playing with their smartphones than I was exposed to by the age of 30. The last thing they need is more “adultifying.”

Here in Iowa, they’ve been used as pawns in Reynolds’ culture wars, they’ve seen schools and school programs cut by lack of funding, and now she wants to push them into work and make them shoulder Iowa’s workforce crisis.

Whatever else we adults do in the coming years, we should not put the burden of solving our labor shortage problems on our kids. There are plenty of adults in the world willing to work. Iowa just hasn’t put any effort into attracting them, welcoming them, or retaining them.

That’s on us. It definitely shouldn’t be on our kids.


Jen Pellant, president of the Western Iowa Labor Federation

6 Comments on "Labor Organizer: Gov. Reynolds, Please Let Iowa’s Kids Be Kids"

  • Of course. Iowa’s Republicans don’t care about anything except their (mostly out-of-state) high=rolling donors and groups like ALEC.
    Kids? Who cares? They’re a drain on the state; put ’em to work!

  • Your point is heard, and while you have a couple good points, your title does not match the content. It is presented as an impassioned plea, a call to reason, and all I read was a callous, non-cited, aggressive slam piece directed toward not only the governor, but the entire party she represents. This, in turn, gives you the appearance of being nothing more than an angry schill for her opponents party. If you truly wish for these “issues” to be resolved with “reason,” then a true, heartfelt plea to your aggreaver will garner more attention, provoke critical analysis, and stimulate an honest and respectful debate. You would be surprised how many people there are that can be reasonable when they don’t feel threatened. Open communication is the key to any successful relationship, romantic or otherwise.

  • To Locke: Reynolds does not engage in open communications, nor does she wish to be in any relationship, other than adversarial, with labor, children (except white cis-gender kids whose parents are rabid MAGA types and/or fundamentalist Christian nationalists) and any adult who thinks differently than she does. The Republicans in the legislature have for the most part agreed to have lobotomies.

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