The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Labor Department withdraws child farm labor rule

The Labor Department today announced it would withdraw its proposed rule dealing with children who work on farms and would not pursue its revision as long as President Barack Obama is in office.

In a news release, the department said it would withdraw the entire rule — the section dealing with the children of farmers who own or operate the farm, which the agency already announced it would repropose, and the portion of the rule that would affect neighborhood youths and migrant worker children who are employed on the farm.

Rep. Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont., Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., had all opposed the rule, and Moran and Thune had introduced legislation to stop it moving forward.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, favored rewriting the rule, arguing that researchers had learned much about child labor on farms since children were exempted from rules that prohibit or limit the employment of persons under 18 in many fields.

“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 Labor Department said in a statement. “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.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
Tester claimed credit for convincing Labor to drop the rule.

“Montana is a world leader in agriculture because our farmers learn the values of responsible, safe work at an early age,” Tester said in a news release. “I appreciate the Department of Labor listening to my concerns and those of hard-working Montana farmers and dropping these rules so we can continue our way of life and keep feeding America.”

Tester noted that he grew up baling hay and “picking rocks” on his family’s farm, and said that “while it’s important to keep our young people safe, it’s essential to expose them to valuable opportunities that develop a deep and long-lasting respect for work.”

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a news release, “It’s good the Labor Department rethought the ridiculous regulations it was going to stick on farmers and their families. It would have been devastating to farm families across the country. Much of rural America was built on families helping families, neighbors helping neighbors. To even propose such regulations defies common sense, and shows a real lack of understanding as to how the family farm works. I’m glad the Obama administration came to its senses.”

Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb.

Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb.
Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., said, “This is a major victory for farmers and ranchers in Nebraska and across the country. Just as it seemed like the Labor Department would move forward with its terribly misguided rule, common sense has prevailed. Rural families can breathe a little easier knowing it won’t be illegal for their kids to be involved in agriculture, the lifeblood of Nebraska’s economy.”

Smith noted that the Labor Department had published its proposed rule on Sept. 2, 2011 and that on Dec. 16, he and 152 other House members signed a letter urging Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to re-evaluate the proposed rule because it would place burdensome restrictions on youth participation in agriculture. In October, Smith signed a bipartisan letter with 77 other House members which secured an extension of the public comment period on the rule.

Last week a coalition of advocates in favor of the rule including the American Federation of Teachers and the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs held a news conference in Washington to encourage the Labor Department to move forward with the rule. The advocates noted that youths have been injured running machinery and said that there should be rules about how long children can work in the hot sun and how high they can climb.