Child Labor Update: Farm Groups Urge House to Preserve Family Farms

The American Farm Bureau Federation and a number of other farm groups have urged the House to vote yes for farm kids and farm families across America by supporting H.R. 4157, the Preserving America’s Family Farms Act. The House will debate and vote on the legislation later today. In a letter to House members, the organizations said that while the safety of all workers remains their number one priority, regulations introduced last year by the Labor Department “took caution beyond recognition.” According to the letter, “The proposed regulations were overly burdensome to agriculture producers and would have limited, if not eliminated, training opportunities for youth in rural America. Fortunately, the administration listened to the concerns of farmers and ranchers by withdrawing the regulation in April. However, the threat to family farms still exists. While we all respect the obligations and responsibilities of DOL to ensure the safety of youth working on farms, we believe that the approaches taken need to be well reasoned and not detrimental to the family farm or the youth participating in farm work,” continued the letter.  H.R. 4157 would protect against these threats by preserving the ability of youth to gain training and education by working on the farm. It also protects an agricultural way of life from future child labor regulations that could limit the ability of youth to learn valuable skills by working on the farm. AFBF continues to work with USDA and other agricultural organizations on agricultural safety programs.

Joining AFBF on the letter were the American Feed Industry Association; the American Horse Council; the American Seed Trade Association; the American Soybean Association; the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association; the International Association of Fairs and Expositions; the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture; the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association; the National Council of Agricultural Employers; the National Cotton Council; the National FFA Organization; the National Milk Producers Federation; the National Pork Producers Council; the United Fresh Produce Association; and the U.S. Apple Association.

Breaking News: DOL withdraws proposed regulations on child ag labor

Good news regarding child labor in agriculture:

The U.S. Department of Labor today issued the following statement regarding the withdrawal of a proposed rule dealing with children who work in agricultural vocations:

“The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations. The Obama administration is also deeply committed to listening and responding to what Americans across the country have to say about proposed rules and regulations.

“As a result, the Department of Labor is announcing today the withdrawal of the proposed rule dealing with children under the age of 16 who work in agricultural vocations.

“The decision to withdraw this rule – including provisions to define the ‘parental exemption’ – was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms. To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.

“Instead, the Departments of Labor and Agriculture will work with rural stakeholders – such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the Future Farmers of America, and 4-H – to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices.”

Child Labor Update: Know the Facts

Wilmer Stoneman, Associate Director
VFB Govermental Relations

With the introduction of legislation designed to block implementation of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed child labor regulations, press coverage of the issue – both positive and negative – has increased.  Some articles critical of the effort to block the DOL proposal contain inaccuracies and misstatements.  One recent instance occurred  in which Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) was criticized for supporting AFBF’s position.

It’s important to remember the facts when you come across one of these articles.

America’s farm and ranch families place a high priority on assuring that everyone who works on our farms and ranches, especially young people, are protected by appropriate safety measures. There is no doubt that the Department of Labor’s proposed rules regarding child labor will have a direct negative impact on our families and our farms and ranches.

Clearly, Congress intended there to be a parental exemption regarding the jobs they ask their children to carry out on the farm. It is clear that DOL has the authority to draft regulations relating to agricultural child labor that restrict youth 16 and under from performing tasks that are “particularly hazardous.” These regulations, known as hazardous occupation (HO) orders, are issued under the Fair Labor Standards Act and stipulate what tasks a youth may not perform on a farm. The law, however, also clearly states that a youth working for a parent or person standing in the place of the parent may perform any task.

The parental exemption has been violated. DOL has traditionally interpreted this parental exemption to include all farms substantially owned by the parent or guardian. Last September, however, DOL proposed to change that traditional interpretation, limiting the parental exemption only to farms “wholly-owned” by a parent or person standing in the place of a parent. This proposed interpretation meant that a brother and sister who jointly owned a farm themselves through a partnership or limited liability corporation would no longer be allowed to hire their nieces, nephews or grandchildren to help work on the farm. Such a proposed interpretation significantly restricted the statutory exemption. It was only after an outpouring of critical comments – numbering nearly 10,000 – from interested individuals and members of Congress that DOL announced it would re-propose the parental exemption portion of the rule; however, it is unclear what the new proposal will include or when it will be announced.

 There is no question that a number of simple everyday tasks would be prohibited by the DOL proposal. For example, there has been extensive discussion about the rule’s prohibition on the use of power-driven equipment and whether it would prohibit youth under the age of 16 from operating simple tools like a battery operated screwdriver. There is no question that it would. Taken directly from DOL’s proposed regulation, Ag. HO #2 prohibits a youth under age 16 from “any activity involving physical contact” with “all machines, equipment, implements…operated by any power source other than human hand or foot power,” and DOL has explicitly stated that this includes “batteries.” It appears quite explicit and clear in the rule that the department proposes to outlaw the use of battery-powered implements like screwdrivers. Moreover, expert comments submitted to the department support this reading of the DOL proposal. The National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) referred to the proposed Ag. HO #2 and specifically noted that the “the proposed definition also exceeds the recommendations made by NIOSH [2002] and would prohibit the use of small handheld battery-powered equipment (e.g., a flashlight) that is not prohibited by any nonagricultural HO.”

 Farm Bureau members are well aware of the risks involved in agriculture and support appropriate regulatory safeguards. We are joined in our efforts by virtually every agricultural organization, including FFA and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

The number of injuries to youths on farms has decreased drastically even without the DOL proposal. An Agricultural Safety Survey, published on April 5, 2012 by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, shows that agriculture-related injuries to youth under 20 years of age decreased 54 percent from 2001 to 2009. Moreover, work-related injuries only contributed to a quarter of youth injuries occurring on farm operations.

Farmers and ranchers will continue to be committed to the safety when it comes to the younger members of our families making valuable contributions to our family businesses. Ensuring the safety of our children is our priority. The DOL proposal, however, extends caution beyond recognition, to the point of having severe negative effects on farm families. The proposal really does strip away the ability of youth to work in agriculture, and it nullifies the desires and goals of parents to pass on to our children the traditions and values that farm work provides. There is concern that the DOL simply does not understand the societal structure of the farming community, how farms are organized and how farm families help one another. While we support appropriate federal regulations in this area, those regulations should be based on reliable data and real risks.

Bills Blocking DOL Child Labor Regulations Introduced

By NIOSH

Update on Child Labor from AFBF:

U.S. Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) introduced common sense legislation last week, the Preserving America’s Family Farm Act, to prevent the Department of Labor (DOL) from enacting its controversial proposed restrictions on youth working on family farms. Both of Oklahoma’s Senators- Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, have signed on as co-sponsors.

The Department of Labor has proposed 85 pages of unreasonable and overreaching rules that would unnecessarily restrict the participation of young people in agriculture related activities,” said Thune. “Family farms and farming communities teach young people responsible work ethics and these proposed rules would change that by severely limiting the commonplace activities in which young people can learn about agriculture. This is another example of the Obama administration initiating unsolicited regulations that would prohibit normal practices that have been carried out in rural areas for generations—not to mention limiting a desperately needed workforce to replace the current generation of farmers whose average age is nearing 60 years old.”

“There is no better example of the vast overreach of government into the everyday lives of Americans than the Department of Labor’s proposed rule to regulate young people working on farms and ranches,” Sen. Moran said. “For generations, the contributions of young people have helped family farm and ranch operations survive and prosper. If this proposal goes into effect, not only will the shrinking rural workforce be further reduced, and our nation’s youth be deprived of valuable career training opportunities, but a way of life will begin to disappear. This proposal should alarm more than just rural America. If the federal government can regulate the relationship between parents and their children on their own family’s farm, there is virtually nothing off limits when it comes to government intrusion into our lives.”

In December of last year, Thune and Moran and 28 of their Senate colleagues sent a letter to Secretary Solis requesting that the proposed rule be withdrawn and outlined numerous concerns.

American Farm Bureau Federal Issue Update: Child Labor

AFBF President
Bob Stallman

On Sept. 2, 2011, the Department of Labor (DOL) released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would affect the employment of youth in agriculture. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) permits youth under the age of 16 to work in agriculture, but also authorizes the secretary of labor to designate certain activities or occupations that may be “particularly hazardous” and to prohibit youth from being employed in such jobs. Such restrictions do not apply to youths employed on farms owned or operated by their parents or individuals standing in place of their parents.  DOL proposal would greatly restrict permissible jobs for youths under 16, in addition to narrowing the parental exemption; DOL also appears to be soliciting comments on expanded restrictions, including prohibiting youth in some circumstances from working in extreme temperatures and being paid piece rates.

Farm Bureau and more than 70 other agricultural organizations filed extensive comments with DOL objecting to the proposals. These agricultural organizations represent the breadth of nearly every commodity and region.

Last week, DOL decided to re-propose the ‘parental exemption’ rule, which which prohibits youth from doing various farm activities on farms at which they don’t reside. American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman released the following statement regarding the issue.

“The decision today by the Labor Department to re-propose the ‘parental exemption’ in the child labor rule is a positive step, but much more work is needed. We will continue to work with the administration to address our concerns with the rule. Any final regulation must make sense, not infringe on the traditional rights of family farms and not unnecessarily restrict the ability of young people to work in agriculture. As DOL’s proposed rule stands currently, that is not the case.

“Farm work has always played a significant role in the lives of rural youth across the country, whether they are milking cows on their grandparents’ farm or harvesting apples as a summer job. DOL’s rule would have a detrimental effect on family farms and would create an even tighter supply of farm labor when it’s already in short supply.

“Farm and ranch families are more interested than anyone else in assuring the safety of farming operations. We have no desire at all to have young teenagers working in jobs that are inappropriate or entail too much risk. But, laws and regulations need to be sensible and within reason—not prohibiting teenagers from performing simple everyday farm functions like operating a battery-powered screwdriver.

“We appreciate Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s diligent work on the issue and look forward to working with USDA and DOL further on establishing a rule that respects the importance of youth farm work in rural America and the importance it plays in our system of family-based agriculture.”