U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis
For the first time in 40 years, the Department of Labor is proposing changes to the Child Labor Act.
The proposed regulations have the potential to significantly transform family farm operations. The changes are pointedly aimed at agriculture and would severely limit opportunities for young people on the farm or ranch, and in some cases eliminate them, until they are at least 16, or in some instances 18 years of age.
â€śChildren employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America,â€ť Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said in a prepared statement. â€śEnsuring their welfare is a priority of the department and this proposal is another element of our comprehensive approach.â€ť
There is a partial exemption for kids working for their mom or dad. That exemption does not extend, however outside that narrow definition. Uncles, aunts, grandparents are not considered. Furthermore, if the teenager is paid then the parents are considered a business and the exemptions are no longer allowed. These rules would also most likely impact youth groups like 4-H and FFA.
What are some of these regulations proposing? One set of regulations would prohibit the loading or unloading of timber of any size; and prohibit removal of stumps except by manual means. (This could be interpreted to include Christmas tree farms and plant nurseries.) They would also prohibit work inside a fruit, forage, silo, grain bin or manure pit. All work that falls within the EPA classification of pesticide handler would be banned.
Other proposed changes prohibit certain occupations involving working with or around animals including handling animals with known dangerous behaviors; assisting in animal husbandry practices that inflict pain upon animal or result in unpredictable behavior (such as branding, breeding, dehorning, vaccinating, castrating and treating sick or injured animals); poultry catching or cooping in preparation for market; working in a yard, pen or stall of an intact(non-castrated male animal or with female animals with suckling offspring or umbilical cords present; herding animals in confined spaces or on horseback, or using motorized vehicles such as trucks or all-terrain vehicles.
Several proposals are aimed specifically at tractor use.
Tractors operated by 14 and 15-year old youth must be equipped with approved Roll-Over Protective Structures (ROPS) and seatbelts; and that seatbelt use be mandated. This would prohibit the use of tractors of any horsepower, including small garden-tractors; whereby the training exemption will either be removed or changed to 90 hours of study.
It would prohibit the use of electronic devices, including communication devices, while operating tractors, power-driven equipment and motor vehicles and restrict use of all power-driven equipment (similar to that of non-agricultural industries). That would seem to be a very broad definition encompassing almost all equipment used on the farm.
Another proposal would restrict young people from working on elevated structures over six feet high. Most combine cabs are over six feet. There are question being asked. Are they not allowed to use ladders either? Do barn lofts fall under this ruling?
The Department of Labor seems to contrast sharply with the wishes of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack who is looking for ways for more young people to get involved in farming and ranching.
In January, Vilsack addressed the National FFA officers and he had this to say. â€śI would like for you to work with your fellow students and the adult leadership of the organization to develop a series of recommendations around the upcoming Farm Bill that will encourage more young people to pursue careers in farming. Over the next few years we will need 100,000 new farmers and I am looking to you for ideas, guidance and suggestions to help make that happen.â€ť
Lonnie Koepke, instructor of Broken Bow Highâ€™s Ag Department, said that new regulations would severely limit his studentsâ€™ ability to get jobs in agriculture. â€śNo one wants to hire someone to drive a $100.000 tractor without experience.â€ť
Teenagers are welcome help during the busy times on the farm and ranch. Skilled labor is hard to come by and property owners are looking for someone they can train and stay around for a few season.
The Department of Labor is taking comments on the proposed regulation changes until December 1. Comments can be submitted at http://www.regulations.gov under Child Labor Regulations.