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Op/Ed: Mainers should welcome passage of teen labor bill

By Tim Lajoie, Chairman

Lewiston Republican City Committee

A week ago I sent an Op/Ed to this paper attempting to rally Lewiston Republicans and all others who are tired of Democratic encroachment into their personal lives. I suggested that there was a real contrast between the self-sufficiency ideals of the Republican Party and the government-orchestrated solutions offered by the Democrats.

No sooner had Twin City TIMES published my piece did the Democrats in Lewiston and Augusta give me the opportunity to offer such a contrast, a contrast that serves as a real example of our differences. I would be remiss and hypocritical if I did not seize the opportunity to illustrate it.

I’m speaking of the teen labor bill, (LD 516) “An Act To Amend Maine Law To Conform with Federal Law Regarding Employment Practices for Certain Minors,” which was just passed and signed by Governor LePage. Now, speaking as a less-government, personal freedom, personal responsibility, autonomy-loving citizen, I say that the amount of hours a teenager should be allowed to work should be decided by the teenager and his parents or guardians.

The Democrats, however, including every Lewiston Democrat, have decided that the government should be the final arbiter of such decisions. Their meddling in this issue, I assume, is because they do not think families are capable of making a responsible decision on their own.

The Democrats employed their usual hyperbolic rhetoric in opposing this legislation. According to some local news outlets, opposing Democrats have speculated that this legislation will doom academic performance, make our children unwilling servants of the hospitality and restaurant industries and allow employers to intimidate minors into submitting to harsh treatment. They want us to believe that they are simply looking out for us, protecting us from such abuses.

It’s insulting enough that the Democrats want us to believe that this legislation will amount to indentured servitude for teenagers, as if all restaurant owners are cruel taskmasters. Even more insulting, the Democrats do not believe that anyone in their constituency is able to recognize such abuse or take corrective action if it does occur. If they did believe their constituents could exercise such judgment, they would support this bill.

Instead, the Democrats have decided, which includes every Democrat in Lewiston, that they–not you—are the only ones able to determine that. Apparently, they believe that no parent is capable of protecting their child from these phantom unethical employment practices. So the Democrats want to do it for you.

No, they say, we are not letting your child work more than 20 hours a week, and you have no say in the matter.  They are simply protecting you from, well, you. The arrogance!

Now, I do want to be fair. Working more than 20 hours a week is probably not a good idea for some teenagers. For others, it makes sense. But it is for each individual and his or her family to decide, based on their individual needs and priorities.

The ideological difference between Republicans and Democrats on this issue is the right to make the choice. Republicans believe that individuals should decide; Democrats think government should decide. Period. It does not get any simpler than that.

How ridiculous does this sound? Teenager: “Mom, my boss has asked me to work Saturday, but I have a test on Monday that I should study for. Should I say no?”

Mom: “I don’t know. Let me call my local Democratic representative.”

Seriously, folks. Is this what we want in Lewiston? In Maine? Do we want government involved in our personal family decisions to this degree?

If our society is trying to produce self-sufficient and responsible citizens, then how about we try this approach: Let’s get the Democrats in Augusta to have the teenager and the employer negotiate at the time of hire the amount and distribution of work hours. Or the Democrats in Augusta can let the teenagers decide if the job will interfere with their academic pursuits or other important priorities.

How about if the bureaucrats in Augusta let the teenager decide if they are being “exploited” by their employer?  What if the teenager needs help with making these decisions? Should they solicit help from their parents/guardians instead of Augusta? It is good practice for the real world.

I was a teenager before these 1991 laws restricted the amount of hours and schedules teenagers could work. From the time I was 16, I worked at least 20 hours a week and most often closer to 30 or more. Believe it or not, I managed to graduate from high school and—gasp—college, too. So did all of my friends.

I also learned how to establish priorities, pay bills, balance a checkbook, budget time, learn responsibility and largely support myself during those years, relieving my parents of the financial burden of buying my clothes, music, gas and a host of other things. In my experience, it was a good thing—and my parents agreed. Notice we did not consult with Augusta.

The Democrats, as always, want us to believe we cannot get by without them. It’s not true. If teenagers believe that work is affecting their studies, they can reduce their hours, find another job or—just maybe—the employer will adjust their schedule to meet the priorities of valued employees.

Did it ever occur to Democrats that employers may do the right thing by their employees? Did it ever occur to Democrats that teenage employees may choose to walk away from unscrupulous employers? Did it ever occur to Democrats that such decisions can be made without their interference or imposing restrictive legislation?

It may be inevitable that a small minority of employers may abuse this legislation. If legislation prevented every evil from happening, there would be no prisons. But here is a fundamental American truth: We do not surrender our personal freedoms because somebody else abused theirs.

The Democrats coined the phrase, “We cannot legislate morality.” Yet they attempt at every opportunity to impose their morality on the rest of us.

All Mainers should welcome LD 516. We have the right to make up our own minds. It is not the job of Democrat representatives to legislate away that right or oppose legislation that ensures it.

LD 516 lets Mainers decide for themselves and their own families how many hours teens should work—or not work.  All Mainers should take a real hard look at the representatives who opposed this bill and supported taking away a family’s right to choose.

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