Department of Labor withdraws proposed child labor rule
On April 26, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) withdrew their proposed child labor rule that included numerous components focused on 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,” said the DOL in their official statement as the reason for withdrawal.
Many of those comments originated in western states, where numerous groups and individuals keyed in on specific aspects of the rule in their fight to have it withdrawn.
“Nebraska Cattlemen (NC) has been working against the proposed regulations since they were issued in September 2011. We wrote comments in opposition, explaining how ludicrous they really were and how they showed a complete lack of understanding of agriculture in general and on how children are employed on agriculture operations,” stated Kristen Hassebrook with Nebraska Cattlemen.
Among the components NC keyed in on was not allowing children to work prior to 16 years of age, not allowing children to work in agriculture corporations, and misinterpretation of what parental supervision and love really is.
“Someone’s child shouldn’t be disallowed from working for the family farm corporation that is being run by dad and grandpa. We also firmly believe that the younger generation is the future of our Nebraska farms and ranches, and if that child isn’t allowed to be involved on the farm when they are 14-16, there’s a very low chance they will want to return when they complete their high school and college education,” explained Hassebrook.
North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU) President Woody Barth echoed Hassebrook’s sentiments about the ill-conceived rule.
“It wasn’t a good rule for ag in general, and would have affected the image of how we do business. We need to understand that ag is a risky business, and you have to be careful. But if we don’t teach the next generation how to work with livestock and machinery at a young age, and how to be in control when they do, we’re going to miss the next generation understanding and enjoying the life we do now,” Barth explained.
“Parents are the most qualified to determine if kids should work on farms, not bureaucrats in Washington D.C.,” added South Dakota Farm Bureau (SDFB) President Scott VanderWal. “We also selected key points in this issue, first of which being that the work ethic young people learn on the farm is extremely important. When they learn about animals and machinery at an appropriately early age, the lessons carry on with them for their entire life. Another is that no one is more concerned about farm safety than those on the farm, and no one ever purposely puts their kids in harm’s way.”
SDFB was also highly concerned about the potential implications to 4-H and FFA programs.
“It was in serious question whether certain livestock projects in the 4-H and FFA programs would be allowed to continue when you really looked at the rule. It would have been terrible to lose those types of activities for young people,” he said.
Hassebrook commented that the involvement of 4-H and FFA aged people in a major political issue was a unique and refreshing aspect of fighting this proposed rule.
“It was invigorating to see kids, parents, ag associations and congressional leaders all stand up together. How often do kids call press conferences? Not that often, and it was motivating to watch their involvement and see how passionate our young people in agriculture really are,” she stated.
Instead of a rule, the DOL is now making plans to work with what they refer to as rural stakeholders, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, and FFA and 4-H groups, to develop an education program to reduce young worker accidents and promote safer working practices in agriculture. The department also made assurances that the proposed regulations will not be revisited for the duration of the Obama administration.
Hassebrook explained that the industry is already on top of this angle, and a recent report showed injuries to children less than 20 years of age on farms has dropped almost 50 percent in the last decade.
“People with an interest in this proposed rule are such a small percentage of the voting block, I’m not sure it was a big deal to those involved in the election. But we got people’s attention with the written comments and calling our elected officials. The public outcry was tremendous,” stated VanderWal.
“I think the process worked, and that’s the good news that we were very happy to hear,” added Barth. “They proposed a rule, went to public comment, and then decided to pull it based on those comments. We believe strongly in education at NDFU, and I think we all educated the DOL on this issue, and are better off for it. In this case we have a point where the system worked.”