January 22, 1998 in Washington Voices

Students On The Job Should Teenagers Have The Freedom To Work Longer Hours?

By The Spokesman-Review

Some Valley business owners say teen labor regulations make it a hassle to hire those less than 18 years of age.

That’s why some would like to see changes in the state law that limits the number of hours and the times during the week those under 18 can work.

But educators say the work rules only protect the teenagers’ best interests, and many Valley teens themselves say they don’t mind the limit on work hours.

A 1993 Washington law states that 16- and 17-year-olds can’t work past 10 p.m. on school nights and can work no more than 28 hours a week with an OK from parents and schools and just 20 hours a week without permission from their parents and schools.

Ryan Heaton, who manages the Senor Froggy restaurant on East Sprague, says he doesn’t think teenagers should be expected to work full-time jobs, but he does believe it should be up to the kids and their parents to decide how many hours and when they should work each week.

Heaton said he asks all employees under 18 to fill out the special permission form that allows them to work up to 28 hours per week, just in case they want to work more than 20 hours.

“No one knows, if senior prom time comes around, they may need more money,” he said.

Last fall Heaton started to close the restaurant at 10 p.m. on school nights, rather than 11 p.m., because it was hard to get enough workers who were able to stay on the job until 11, he said.

Dave Hook, owner of Senor Froggy and head of the Washington Restaurant Association, said Spokane’s tight labor market, coupled with the limits on teen work hours, have made it difficult for many restaurants to maintain adequate staffing. “It’s made it very difficult to hire,” Hook said. “In 30 years, the competition for employees is as extreme as I’ve seen it.”

Last legislative session, state Rep. Brad Benson, a Republican from Spokane’s Sixth District, introduced a bill that would have allowed teens to work up to 36 hours a week. The bill didn’t get out of committee.

This year, Benson said, he is considering introducing legislation that would allow teens, parents and schools to decide how many hours those under 18 could work.

“There’s no way the government knows the circumstances of every kid,” Benson said.

Teri Pickerel, owner of the Java Jump espresso stand on Mullan Road, said she does not hire anyone under 18 because she needs flexibility in scheduling her five employees.

Getting permission from parents and schools isn’t a big issue, Pickerel says, and she’d do it if she had a larger business. But she doesn’t want to have to struggle with rescheduling and trading shifts because an employee isn’t able to work certain hours.

“I need to be more flexible here,” she said.

A lot of teens say the limits are fine with them.

Rochelle Largent, a 17-year-old senior at Central Valley High School, works three four-hour shifts a week in the dietary center at the Valley Hospital and Medical Center. She picks up another eight hours as a model for Bon Marche fashion shows.

“Right now, I like it how it is,” she said. “I have activities, pep band, basketball games.”

She, who maintains a 3.2 grade point average, and is saving for college, says she is happy that her $7 an hour job at Valley Hospital allows her to work less and still earn more than most teens working typical fast-food jobs.

Andrea Tonani, a 17-year-old senior at East Valley High School, works between 17 and 20 hours a week at the Senor Froggy restaurant on Sprague. Because she wants time for basketball practice, studies and a social life, Tonani says she wouldn’t want to work any more during the school year.

“That’s perfect,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to work much more than that.”

Tonani says her managers are flexible with her schedule. The money she earns pays for gas and movies and also goes into her savings account. And she says work doesn’t infringe on her school work.

“I think it got me a lot more organized,” she said.

Others say that a majority of working teens don’t really need jobs. In the long run, the say, teens could gain more by devoting the work hours to extracurricular activities that would help them land college scholarships.

“A lot of kids sacrifice school for a short-term gain,” said Kathy Steblaj, a counselor at University High School.

She believes that less than 10 percent of the students who hold down jobs really need to work. They do it to have extra money for cars and entertainment.

Some part-time work is fine, and she supports those students that do work, but once students start working more than 10 or 15 hours per week, they begin to approach the point of diminishing return, she said.

“A lot of kids that would be scholarship applicants with their grades aren’t because they don’t have the extracurricular activities,” she said.

Steblaj said she has this advice for teenagers who want to spend more time on the job: “You have your whole life to work. Why work when don’t have to?”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 Color)

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