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Lawmakers want to strengthen child labor protections after violations at a Greeley meatpacking plant

Sheila Lieder sits at a desk in front of a light wooden table with desks in the background and a staircase behind her
Lucas Brady Woods
Bill sponsor Rep. Sheila Lieder is pictured here on the House floor on Friday, Mar. 17, 2023. She said House Bill 1196 allows victims of child labor violations to sue for remedies not included in standard workers compensation.

A bill that would expand child labor protections cleared its first hurdle Friday in Colorado's House of Representatives, a month after a meatpacking company in Greeley was caught using underage workers.

Teenagers can work in Colorado under specific circumstances. However, it is illegal for companies to hire people under 18 for any job that involves hazardous materials or dangerous work conditions. If an employer violates the state’s child labor laws, they have to pay a fine.

House Bill 1196 would allow victims of child labor and their parents to sue for additional damages. Bill sponsor Rep. Sheila Lieder said it would allow for remedies that aren’t included in standard workers compensation like lost wages or medical expenses due to on-the-job injury. She also hopes this will deter companies from hiring underage workers in the first place.

“Perhaps the business would think twice before they start putting our children in danger,” Lieder said. “And it would give them some type of recourse to make them think twice for next time. God forbid if there’s a next time.”

It follows last month’s discovery of child labor law violations at the Greeley-based meatpacking plant JBS. The U.S. Department of Labor found that the plant’s cleaning company, Packers Sanitation Services Inc, LTD, employed over one hundred minors at similar facilities across the country, including four in Greeley. They were subjected to hazardous conditions and materials, and several were injured.

“They’re working them on equipment they shouldn’t be working them on, and then they get injured,” Lieder said. “If they can’t go to school, if it maims them for life, that’s going to affect them for the rest of their life.”

The bill will get a final vote in the House before moving over to the Senate.

I’m the Statehouse Reporter at KUNC, which means I help make sense of the latest developments at the Colorado State Capitol. I cover the legislature, the governor, and government agencies.