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Labor to re-open parental exemption of child ag labor rule

A Labor Department decision today to pull back on a proposed rule restricting youth labor on farms in which their parents have ownership won praise from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., but Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kans., said the change was minor and that the administration should withdraw the entire rule.

House Small Business Agriculture, Energy and Trade Subcommittee Chairman Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said he would proceed with a hearing scheduled Thursday on the overall rule.

The debate over youth labor started last September when the Labor Department proposed revisions to a Fair Labor Standards Act rule that exempts children under 16 from wage and hour requirements if they are working on an agriculture operation owned or operated by a parent or person standing in place of the parents.

The family exemption, going back to 1966, also permits youths under age 16, but at least age 14, to perform occupations the Labor secretary has determined to be hazardous if the child is working on a farm on which the parent is the sole employer. The proposed change would require that the farm be wholly owned by the parent, would also place restrictions on youth work with power-driven equipment, livestock and pesticides and would forbid youth from working at elevations above six feet.

The Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, which is in charge of the rule, said today it would “re-propose” the parental exemption portion of the regulation that said the farm should be “wholly owned” by the parent, so that that the child could work on a farm in which the parent is a part owner, a partner in a partnership, or an officer of a corporation that has a “substantial” ownership interest in the farm.

A Labor Department official told reporters in a telephone call that the agency will proceed with the rest of the rule while considering the comments it has received.

The decision represented a partial victory for farm and rural groups that have said the rule would make it impossible for rural youth to be trained in farming, doesn’t reflect modern ownership patterns, would make it impossible for grandchildren and nieces and nephews of farm owners to learn about farming and runs counter to Vilsack’s campaign to encourage young people to stay on the farm and in rural America.
Tom Vilsack

Tom Vilsack
At the American Farm Bureau Federation meeting in Honolulu last month, Vilsack said he had called Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and told her “there is a value system here. This is a way for rural folks to teach their children about hard work.”

Vilsack noted at the time that Solis “comes from California where it’s different and there are more migrant workers.” The secretary also said he had urged her to speak to farmers from other parts of the country. He compared the situation to the conflicts between farmers and officials at the Environmental Protection Agency before EPA decided not to regulate spilled milk as an oil or to regulate dust on rural roads.
Hilda Solis

Hilda Solis
Today Solis said her department will work with Agriculture on the rule.

“The Department of Labor appreciates and respects the role of parents in raising their children and assigning tasks and chores to their children on farms and of relatives such as grandparents, aunts and uncles in keeping grandchildren, nieces and nephews out of harm’s way,” she said.

“Today’s announcement to re-propose the parental exemption means the department will have the benefit of additional public comment, and the public will have an opportunity to consider a revised approach to this issue. We will continue to work closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure that our child labor in agriculture rule generally, and the parental exemption specifically, fully reflect input from rural communities.”

The Labor official told reporters that only the parental exemption had been re-proposed, but that the agency “will be carefully considering that type of comment we have received from farm families” in regard to other family members.

Vilsack thanked Solis for the decision.

“I want to applaud Secretary Solis and the Department of Labor for their decision to re-propose this portion of the rule to ensure kids across the nation have the opportunity to learn the value and reward of good old-fashioned farm work, while still providing protection to children from the most dangerous aspects of farming,” Vilsack said.

“The Labor Department listened to farmers and ranchers across the country,” he said. “This announcement and the additional opportunity for comment represent a common-sense approach to strengthen our agricultural economy while keeping farm kids safe. It reflects the Obama administration’s commitment to the American values that will keep our rural and agricultural economies growing, and keep rural communities and families prosperous.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
Stabenow said the Labor Department has responded to her request that it “go back to the drawing board” on the rule.

“I grew up in Clare, was active in 4-H, and know how important family farms are in Michigan,” Stabenow said in the news release. “Of course there should be safeguards to protect children from dangerous situations, but there needs to be an understanding that many children in rural communities learn about safety by helping their family on the farm.”

The National Farmers Union, whose members are Democratic-leaning, said it was pleased the administration listened to the concerns of the agriculture community.
Roger Johnson

Roger Johnson
“Farming is a lifestyle that is passed down from generation to generation, so it is critical that farmers are able to teach their children how to perform the work safely and responsibly,” NFU President Roger Johnson said in a news release.

“No one is more concerned about the safety of young workers than their parents and other family members. Current rules and regulations allow adequate flexibility for parents to teach their children about agriculture while still ensuring that young workers are safe. Even more important are the values, work ethic, and life lessons which are an enormous contribution to society and to our country.”
Bob Stallman

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, whose members are Republican-leaning, said he appreciated Vilsack’s efforts, but that “much more work is needed. “

“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.,” he said. “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.”

Roberts noted that he had worked with Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, on urging Solis to reconsider the rule.

“While I am pleased the Department of Labor has listened to commonsense straight from America’s farmers and ranchers, this proposed regulation would threaten the most fundamental tradition in agriculture — working on the family farm,” Roberts said. “I encourage them to scrap the whole thing and start over.”
TiptonScott

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo.
Tipton agreed that there are other concerns with the rule.

“After much pressure from Congress and producers, DOL has finally acknowledged serious flaws with the parental exemption part of their regulation,” he said. “However, this is only half a victory. There remains great concern about other parts of the rule pertaining to youth access to safety training programs and on-farm education and employment opportunities.

“I believe, as the majority of American farmers do, that this rule altogether should never have been proposed,” Tipton said. “The rule as offered would change long-standing and proven programs that provide training to young people who are interested in pursuing careers in agriculture. This is bad for agricultural small businesses and it is bad for the future of our nation’s farming needs.

“We will discuss this more in depth at tomorrow’s House Small Business Subcommittee hearing and continue to persuade DOL to reconsider the rule in its entirety.”

76 FR 54836 Child Labor Regulations, Orders and Statements of Interpretation; Child Labor Violations-Civil Money Penalties
House Small Business Memo