House OKs Rep. Spears’s bill to establish “Workplace Readiness Week” in public high schools


STATE HOUSE — The House today voted to approve a bill from Rep. Tina Spears to establish an annual “Workplace Readiness Week” to educate high school students about their rights as workers and available pathways to enter the workforce.

The bill now moves to the Senate where Sen. Jacob Bissaillon (D-Dist. 1, Providence) has introduced companion legislation (2024-S 2282).

“This bill creates a simple mandate that we educate students on worker’s rights, the labor movement and how we came to have the important employment protections we have today,” said Representative Spears (D-Dist. 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly). “As child labor violations are increasing across the nation, it is important that we in Rhode Island educate our students on their rights at a time in their lives where many of them are entering the workforce for the first time.”

The legislation (2024-H 7019A) would require all public high schools to annually observe a “Workplace Readiness Week” during April, with the focus on educating students on local, state and federal employment law, the role of the labor movement in winning these protections and benefits and information about apprenticeship programs in Rhode Island. It would also require that minors seeking work permits be issued a document clearly explaining their labor rights.

Representative Spears introduced this bill after a constituent of hers, Nathan Quimby, reached out to her about a similar California bill and how it could benefit Rhode Island’s workforce.

“Corporations take advantage of teenagers, counting on them not knowing their rights,” said Quimby. “A better educated workforce will have more bargaining power, which leads to higher wages and economic growth.”

A 2023 report from the U.S. Department of Labor found nearly that the number of children employed illegally had increased by 88% nationally since 2019.

The bill received supportive testimony in committee from the Department of Labor and Training, the Service Employees International Union 1199NE and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals