Businesses expressed support for the bill, saying it would help Jersey Shore shops in particular as they expect more New Jerseysans to opt for "staycations" this summer. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)
With school almost out for summer and employers still struggling to hire workers, lawmakers are moving a bill they hope would help businesses by making it easier to have teens on staff.
The measure (A4222) would extend the hours a minor can work to a maximum of 50 hours a week and simplify the process for them to get working papers. The Assembly Labor Committee advanced it unanimously Thursday.
Chris Emigholz of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association noted the Legislature passed a similar bill in the last session to ease the labor shortage, but it expired in September 2021. The current bill would make the changes to the law permanent.
“We hope the same thing can happen here — this bill gets done, the governor signs it right away, and it will make all our summers better,” he said.
Currently, the law allows 16- to 18-year-olds to work up to 40 hours a week in the summer, with the option to work no later than 11 p.m.
The bill would allow them to work up to 50 hours a week and past 11 p.m. Working hours would also be expanded for 14- and 15-year-olds to mirror federal law — up to 40 hours a week in the summer, with extended work hours past 9 p.m.
Workers who are 16 or 17 years old could also work six hours before getting a break, rather than five, under the bill.
Hilary Cebra of the South Jersey Chamber of Commerce said the bill comes at an important time for Jersey Shore businesses. She said business owners are expecting a busy year, with the rise in gas prices and airfare making more New Jerseyans opt for a “staycation.”
Michael Hagen of the state Chamber of Commerce added with the war in Ukraine and the pandemic still raging on, employers are having trouble recruiting people from overseas who come here to work on J-1 visas.
“A lot of employers in the tourism industry really rely on them, and they’ve been really impacted,” he said.
The proposed change with working papers would revamp a system parents called “antiquated” during Thursday’s hearing.
“Updating this nearly century-old law puts our kids on a level playing field with their peers across the country,” said Amy Wagner, an Ocean City mom of two teens. “With so many positive byproducts to youth employment, we should all be able to agree that it would behoove us to do what we can to encourage more of it.”
Fifteen states require working papers for students. Currently, New Jersey students must ask their school district to issue them. The bill would require the Department of Labor to create an online registry for minors and employers. Prospective employees would only have to register once, and the requirement would expire when they reach 18.
Business groups and seasonal employers like Six Flags and Morey’s Pier supported the bill at Thursday’s hearing.
The bill would also remove the requirement for teens who are 16 or 17 to get parental consent to work, giving parents the option to opt their child out of extended summer working hours.
The measure would also establish a five-member advisory board to make recommendations on the proposed database and improving working conditions.
Assemblyman Joseph Egan (D-Middlesex), chairman of the Assembly Labor Committee, said he hopes to get the bill passed “in a timely fashion, like in the next couple of days that we can do it. I know it’s possible.”
The Senate companion bill is still awaiting a committee hearing.
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