DOL nixes proposed child farm labor rule
By Larry Dreiling
In what is being hailed by many farm state members of Congress as well as farm lobby groups, the U.S. Department of Labor April 26 issued a statement withdrawing a proposed rule dealing with children who work in agriculture.
The statement read: "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," the statement continued, 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," the statement concluded. "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."
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-KS, was among those hailing the DOL's decision to back off on the proposal.
"American farmers and ranchers received some unexpected and welcome news this evening: the Department of Labor finally listened to them and withdrew its proposed youth farm labor rule, which would have fundamentally altered the future of agriculture in our country," Moran said in a conference call with agricultural journalists April 27. "If the Department had moved forward with regulating the relationship between parents and children on their own farm, a dangerous precedent would have been set; virtually nothing would be off limits when it comes to government intrusion into our lives.
"For generations, the contributions of young people have helped family farm and ranch operations survive and prosper. If this proposal had gone into effect, not only would the shrinking rural workforce have been further reduced and our nation's youth deprived of valuable career training opportunities, but a way of life would have begun to disappear. This is a tremendous victory for farmers and ranchers across the country."
Last year, Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis proposed rules that would restrict family farm operations by prohibiting youth under the age of 16 from participating in common practices on the farm and ranch.
The proposal covered vaccinating and hoof trimming all livestock and handling most animals more than 6 months old, operating farm machinery over 20 PTO horsepower, completing tasks at elevations over 6 feet high, and working at stockyards and grain and feed facilities.
Moran complained the proposal would limit participation in 4-H and FFA activities and restrict their youth farm safety classes.
"The language of the proposed rule is so specific it would even ban youth from operating a battery-powered screwdriver or a pressurized garden hose," Moran said.
In December of last year, Solis was sent a letter signed by Moran and 29 other senators requesting that the proposed rule be withdrawn. Moran said he developed a website, keepfamiliesfarming.com, to assist in gathering public comment and, together with Sen. Ben Nelson, D-NE, managed to get the DOL to extend the comment period on the proposal. Through the website, Moran and Nelson gathered over 8,000 comments that were forwarded onto the department.
In March, Moran and Sen. John Thune, R-SD, introduced legislation, the Preserving America's Family Farm Act, to prevent DOL from enacting its plan.
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.