On May 9 2022, the meme appeared on the popular subreddit r/antiwork:
All three posts featured the same undated meme, with “Ro Khanna Democrat for Congress” watermarked at the bottom. Images of “hiring” signs at Taco Bell, Burger King, and McDonald’s were visible at the top of the meme; on the bottom, text read:
Wisconsin’s Republican state legislature just approved a bill allowing 14-year-olds to work as late as 11 PM “to plug up the labor shortage.”
YEP … THEY’D RATHER BRING BACK CHILD LABOR than pay workers a living wage.
LET THAT SINK IN.
A reverse image search only returned results crawled on or after May 8 2022. Khanna’s Facebook page featured several memes with an identical format, but we were unable to find the meme among Khanna’s Facebook photographs.
Google Trends data registered a spike in related searches on May 8 and 9 2022. “Wisconsin child labor” and “Wisconsin child labor laws” were both popular searches on those dates.
A search of recent news stories through Google News returned no matching results for May 2022. However, TheHill.com published an article (“Wisconsin moves to let 14-year-olds work till 11 pm”) on October 21 2021, citing Insider.com:
- Wisconsin lawmakers on Wednesday [October 20 2021] approved a bill that would expand labor laws, allowing 14- and 15-year-olds to work until 11 p.m. on certain days.
- The state currently adheres to federal guidelines that stipulate the group can only work between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. from June 1 to Labor Day, and between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. thereafter.
- But the measure would only apply to businesses exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Wisconsin lawmakers on Wednesday [October 20 2021] approved a bill that would expand labor laws, allowing 14- and 15-year-olds to work until 11 p.m. on certain days in a push to boost small businesses.
The proposed bill, SB-22 [sic], would allow the group to work between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. on work days before a school day and between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. when there is no school the next day, Insider reported. But the measure would only apply to businesses exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The bill turned out to be SB 332, not SB 22, introduced in April 2021. An October 2021 update (“Wisconsin’s Senate approves a bill allowing 14 year olds to work as late as 11 p.m., and supporters say it could help plug the labor shortage”) added:
[SB 332 advanced] to the Wisconsin Assembly for approval.
The bill would keep in place federal rules limiting teens to three hours of work on a school day, eight hours on non-school days, and six days of work a week.
It wouldn’t cover businesses that have annual revenues of more than $500,000 or workers involved in interstate commerce, who are instead covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
In testimony to the state’s Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform in June , Sen. Mary Felzkowski and Rep. Amy Loudenbeck said that the bill would help small businesses during the busy summer months.
On December 6 2021, NPR-affiliated Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) published “Young teens could work longer hours in Wisconsin under a GOP-backed bill,” reporting that as of December 2021, the proposal had “yet to be voted on in an Assembly committee,” and that Wisconsin’s governor had not responded to requests for comment:
Fourteen and 15-year-olds in Wisconsin would be able to work longer hours under a Republican-backed proposal at the state Capitol.
The Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association, Association of Wisconsin Tourism Attractions and National Federation of Independent Businesses have all registered their official support for the plan. The Wisconsin Education Association Council, Wisconsin School Social Workers Association and Wisconsin AFL-CIO are among its opponents.
In prepared testimony before the September  legislative committee, Stephanie Bloomindale, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, told lawmakers the plan is “another in a series that seeks to whittle-back child labor protection and enforcement.”
“Any attempt to reduce our child labor laws places Wisconsin in the wrong direction,” Bloomingdale said.
Some, including the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, have also argued having different state and federal restrictions for young teens’ work hours could be confusing and open employers up to potential lawsuits.
The bill passed the state Senate in October . It has yet to be voted on in an Assembly committee.
A December 23 2021 editorial appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Opinion: Wisconsin’s labor shortage cannot be solved on the backs of our kids.” It read in part:
Senate Bill 332 extends the hours children under 16 can legally work if they are not covered under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. If signed into law, the work day for some kids as young as 14 could begin as early as 6 a.m. and end as late as 9:30 p.m. on days preceding a school day. They could work until 11 p.m. if there’s no school the next day. Under current state law, children under 16 can’t work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. during the school year.
The proposed change is the latest attempt by Wisconsin Republicans to solve the state’s so-called labor shortage on the backs of children. Previously, they successfully passed bills that eliminated both work permits and limits on the number of hours and days young people, ages 16 and 17, could work. And for politicians who remained squeamish about expanding child labor, they scrubbed that term from state employment statutes, replacing it with the more anodyne “employment of minors”.
On January 20 2022, Wausau Pilot & Review (of Wausau, Wisconsin) published an article with the headline, “Wisconsin Assembly sent Gov. Tony Evers a bill … that would allow teenagers to work longer hours during the busy summer tourism months,” noting the bill had been voted on in the Assembly.
On February 4 2022, the Associated Press syndicated “[Gov.] Evers Vetoes Bill That Would Have Allowed Teens to Work Late,” reporting that Wisconsin’s governor vetoed the measure:
Gov. Tony Evers on Friday [February 4 2022] vetoed a bill opposed by labor unions that would have allowed teenagers to work longer hours during the busy summer tourism months.
The measure Evers vetoed had the support of Republicans and the state’s hotel, restaurant and grocery industries. Democrats and the Wisconsin AFL-CIO opposed it … Evers said he vetoed it because he objected to creating two separate systems of work requirements for employers.
An April 16 2022 article on Madison.com covered another flurry of vetoes from Evers in Wisconsin. As of that date, it reported:
Evers’ latest round of vetoes brings his record total to 126 since taking office. Republicans lack the votes needed in the Senate and Assembly for an override.
In May 2022, a meme suggesting that Wisconsin’s child labor laws could be changed in order to “plug up [a] labor shortage” spread on Twitter, Reddit, and Imgur. While the image appeared to originate on the Facebook page of Democrat Ro Khanna, we were unable to locate the original post (which could have been deleted), nor determine when it was originally shared.
Despite that, the meme described real efforts to loosen restrictions on young workers in Wisconsin — a measure supported by the industry and opposed by labor advocates. In January 2022, the bill passed the Assembly, and moved to the desk of Wisconsin governor Tony Evers. Evers then vetoed the bill on February 4 2022. Although elements of the meme were accurate, the bill did was not signed into law by Evers.