Bloomberg Law
June 12, 2023, 9:42 AM

Punching In: Lawmakers Bicker Over Child Labor ‘Scourge’ Answers

Rebecca Rainey
Rebecca Rainey
Andrew Kreighbaum
Andrew Kreighbaum

Monday morning musings for workplace watchers.

Kids at Work|Striking Writers and Visas

Rebecca Rainey: House Education and Workforce Committee members are sparring over how the Department of Labor can fix an alarming trend of child labor violations in the US. Democrats on the committee say federal agencies need more resources to help police employers hiring kids illegally, blaming weak penalties and enforcement that are constrained by flat federal funding. But Republicans want federal agencies to address how minors are obtaining fraudulent documents to secure these jobs.

Democrats Rep. Bobby Scott (Va.) and Alma Adams (N.C.), who both hold minority leadership positions on the committee, urged Republican Chair Virginia Foxx (N.C.) in a letter last week to convene a hearing to size up the problem and to consider proposals to beef up penalties for child labor violations.

“The scourge of child labor that Congress sought to eliminate 85 years ago with the passage of FLSA is back, and it has returned at [a] time when the agencies we expect to provide timely data and aggressive enforcement lack the resources they need,” Democrats wrote.

But, Foxx has concerns of her own about the DOL’s plan to ensure companies are hiring legally. The chair, along with Republican Rep. Kevin Kiley (Calif.), pressed Labor Secretary nominee Julie Su in their own letter earlier this month for more details about the DOL’s coordination with other agencies to address the use of false identification by minors to secure employment.

The Republicans want answers from the DOL by this week on whether it plans to issue guidance for employers on what documents they should use to verify a worker’s age. They also questioned whether the DOL would consult with the Department of Homeland Security as part of its recently announced special task force to address child labor exploitation. “The Taskforce has been completely silent on the widespread use of fraudulent work documents and how employers are expected to comply with the FLSA amidst these challenges,” the Republicans wrote.

Nominee no-man’s land: Julie Su isn’t the only nominee lost in Senate confirmation limbo...Her ex-husband, Hernan D. Vera, has been waiting since 2019 to be confirmed to serve as a federal judge for the central district of California.

Vera’s nomination was returned to the president twice after failing to advance in 2021 and 2022, and is now awaiting a full Senate vote this Congress. He currently serves on the Los Angeles County Superior Court and is former president and CEO of Public Counsel, which provides free legal services to immigrants, small businesses, and nonprofits. Su and Vera’s divorce was finalized in 2019, according to court records.

Demonstrators picket in front of Netflix during a screenwriter’s strike in Los Angeles on May 2. More than 11,000 Hollywood television and movie writers went on their first strike in 15 years, after talks with studios and streamers over pay and working conditions failed to clinch a deal.
Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Andrew Kreighbaum: Meanwhile in the Golden State…

Work stoppages in the entertainment industry could have implications for immigrant workers as the Writers Guild of America strike enters its seventh week and actors’ union SAG-AFTRA prepares for a potential work stoppage of its own.

Hollywood employers bring in international talent from across the globe for film and television productions, primarily on O-1 visas designated for people of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business and athletics. Such temporary work visas require recipients to continue working to maintain status, said Gabriel Castro, a senior associate at Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP who leads the firm’s Los Angeles office.

A lapse in work typically would mean a problem for those visa holders, he said, but regulations are fairly explicit that a work stoppage like a strike won’t affect visa status.

“You’re allowed to join your US worker, domestic colleagues on that strike,” Castro said.

Complications could arise, however, when it comes to renewing the temporary work visa. US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the State Department aren’t supposed to issue new O-1 visas while a strike is ongoing. The intent behind that rule is labor-friendly—employers aren’t supposed to bring in new foreign talent during a work stoppage. But, Castro said, “You run into problems when filing for an extension of an O-1 visa.”

In entertainment or sports, an O-1 visa applicant is required to seek a letter from a labor union stating that there’s no objection to hiring the worker and a statement of support from their employer.

“If a show is not in production, if they’re not in a writers room, they’re not going to have a statement of support for the visa,” Castro said.

More than 19,000 O-1 visas were issued in 2022 with almost 18,000 additional visas going to family members or individuals assisting the visa recipient.

Following a wave of layoffs in the tech industry beginning last year, USCIS issued an FAQ document in March that addressed the grace period for workers to find a new employer to sponsor their visa and other potential change of status options.

Similar guidance would be welcomed by workers affected by the writers strike, said Fiona McEntee, an immigration attorney at McEntee Law Group who advises clients on cases including O-1 visas. Issues surrounding temporary work visas “can be unclear at the best of times,” she said.

More information from immigration agencies on approaching visa renewals as the strike persists is even more urgent because it’s been more than a decade since the last writers strike, she added.

We’re punching out. Daily Labor Report subscribers, please check in for updates during the week, and feel free to reach out to us.

To contact the reporters on this story: Rebecca Rainey in Washington at; Andrew Kreighbaum in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Genevieve Douglas at; Martha Mueller Neff at

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