Administration Backtracks on Child Labor Rules

Cindy ZimmermanAFBF, Farmers, Regulation, USDA

The administration is rethinking plans to prevent children from doing many types of farm work.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) this week announced that a proposal which would have barred children from many on-farm tasks will be revised to allow broader exemptions for parents who own or run agricultural operations.

The proposed rules would have prevent children younger than 16 from using most power-driven equipment on farms and prohibit anyone under 19 from working in grain bins, stockyards and feedlots.

Agricultural organizations had unanimously opposed the concept which strikes at heart of the farm and ranch lifestyle and the Labor Department was inundated with thousands of comments from the countryside. “Your voices were heard,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association president Bill Donald, who announced the news at the annual Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville. “This goes right to the very fiber of who we are in this country.”

American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman says the decision to re-propose the ‘parental exemption’ in the child labor rule is a positive step, but much more work is needed. “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,” said Stallman. “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.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the decision shows the Labor Department listened to the nation’s farmers. “This announcement and the additional opportunity for comment represent a common-sense approach to strengthen our agricultural economy while keeping farm kids safe,” Vilsack said.

The House Small Business’ Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade held a hearing on the issue Thursday to get additional input from agricultural interests.