The Iowa House has approved a bill that was drafted in response to child labor violations at the meatpacking plant in Postville. Over 300 illegal immigrants were rounded up in a federal raid at the plant last May, but a separate investigation found children were illegaly working in the plant, too.
Representative John Beard, a Democrat from Decorah, represents the town of Postville. "I find it quite extraordinary that here in the 21st Century we’re working on a bill that addresses child labor. Oscar Wilde once commented that there are people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing," Beard says. "The people in my district know all too well the staggering cost of worker exploitation and exploitation of the environment."
According to Beard, Allamakee County — home to Postville — now has an unemployment rate of 11.5 percent. "Let’s take a moment to reflect on what we value. Let’s reflect on the fact that a meatpacking job in this state once used to be a high-paying job," Beard says. "I would like us all to think about the true cost of devaluing labor and exalting profit."
The bill which cleared the House would double the daily fine for companies caught employing kids. If this bill would had been on the books, legislators say the child labor fine against AgriProcessors would have been $50 million.
The bill got the support of every member of the House who was there to vote today. "I think we can all agree that Postville was an absolute tragedy for the state and an embarassment," said Representative Peter Cownie, a Republican from West Des Moines. "and this bill is a good step in correcting that for the future."
Representative Todd Taylor, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, was the bill’s floor manager. "I think this is an opportunity that we have to encourage employers to do the right thing and not to abuse our workers and exploit our children," Taylor said.
The bill is expected to pass the Iowa Senate as well, enroute to Governor Culver for his final approval.