Today, Gov. Kim Reynolds sent a letter to Department of Labor’s Acting Secretary Julie Su in response to Iowa businesses being targeted with excessive fines. 

The full letter reads as:  

“I am writing on behalf of small businesses across Iowa that are facing excessive fines due to the U.S. Department of Labor’s enforcement of youth labor laws.  

“My office has received multiple reports of small business owners who have been subjected to investigations and excessive penalties by the U.S. Department of Labor for employing teenagers until 9 p.m. on school days or 11 p.m. on non-school days, as permitted by state law. These businesses are facing fines up to $180,000 without allowing for any corrections to be made, even if they have no prior violations.  

“Sugapeach Chicken and Fish Fry in North Liberty, Iowa is one of those businesses. Chad and Carol Simmons opened Sugapeach in August 2016 and employ teens not only to serve their customers, but also to support their community. The Simmons’ participate in the Scholars Making Dollars program coordinated by the local chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, a historically Black fraternity. Its members mentor area youth, while local businesses like Sugapeach give them opportunities to develop work skills, gain real-world experience, and earn a paycheck. Sugapeach, like many small businesses, is a staple of its community and its potential closure, due to severe penalties imposed by the department, will have impacts well beyond its own doors.  

“We are aware of the differences between federal and Iowa’s state labor laws, and that federal law places greater restrictions on young teens’ ability to work. Iowa’s maximum allowable daily and weekly work hours for young teens have been above the federal maximum since 1970 without any enforcement issues. More recently, Iowa passed a bill in 2023 that extended allowable work hours for 14- and 15-year-olds by two hours, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. during the school year, and from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. during summer months. And Iowa is not the only state to do so. 

“More than 25 states currently have state labor laws that are less restrictive than federal law. Those 25 states have not been subjected to the same level of enforcement and excessive fines as Iowa. For example, South Dakota has allowed 14- and 15-year-olds to work until 10 p.m. during the school year since 1994. According to the South Dakota Retailers Association, their businesses have never faced the same level of enforcement scrutiny as Iowa in the 30 years since their law was enacted.  

“We can all agree that the safety, health, well-being, and education of our youth is our highest priority. We fully support the enforcement of labor laws against businesses which employ youth in dangerous and harmful work environments.  But a teenager working past 7 p.m. on a school night is not oppressive child labor.   

“It’s not uncommon for high school freshman and sophomores who are student athletes to report to school by 6 a.m. for team workouts and to compete in games well past 7 p.m. on a school night. The same can be said for many other student activities, from music and debate to academic or social clubs. These types of activities are considered good for kids with evidence suggesting physical, mental, and social benefits.  

“Work is equally beneficial for kids. Research shows that part-time employment benefits teens well beyond a paycheck. High schoolers who hold a job set themselves up for future careers with higher wages, increased annual earnings, and less time spent out of work. Having a job also teaches them a sense of responsibility and strengthens their work ethic. And in today’s workforce, young workers help small businesses thrive. 

“I write on behalf of the local diner, fast food franchise, and main street business in rural Iowa looking to provide employment opportunities to the youth in their community. We respectfully request reconsideration or renegotiation of the fines levied against the small businesses of Iowa facing closure due to excessive fines. 

“Thank you for your attention to this important matter.”