The U.S. Department of Labor announced Feb. 1 that it is going back to the drawing board on its controversial farm labor rule that would have prevented many young people from working on family farms. The labor department is stopping its plans to put the new rules into effect and has agreed to open a new dialogue with family farmers on the issue.
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey are pleased the federal labor department is rethinking the proposed regulation. In a press release issued Feb. 2, Branstad and Northey commended the U.S. Department of Labor after learning that the department has begun to reconsider what many people involved in agriculture say are onerous regulations on youth working on farms.
Branstad and Northey call the proposed new rules a "prime example of federal overreach"
In November of 2011, Branstad and Northey sent a letter to U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis voicing their concern. In the letter, Branstad and Northey asked the labor department to give Iowa farmers a fair opportunity to comment and called the rule "a prime example of federal overreach."
"I am pleased to learn that Secretary Solis and the U.S. Department of Labor are reconsidering their burdensome regulations on Iowa farm families," says Branstad. "As I grew up on a family farm, I learned the value of a strong work ethic by working alongside my family. I firmly believe Iowa farm families are better at ensuring the safety and well-being of their children than bureaucrats in Washington."
"It is important we continue to provide opportunities for young people to learn about agriculture and gain experience by working on farms in a responsible manner," Northey adds. "This announcement by the Department of Labor shows that they are responding to the comments they received and hearing the concerns of the farming community."
Others also vigorously defend opportunity for kids to work on family farms
U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Feb. 1 released the following statement after the Department of Labor announced it would be re-proposing a portion of its agriculture child labor regulations. Grassley has vigorously defended the opportunity for kids to work on family farms. He has said that generations of Iowans have cut their teeth working on the farm, whether for their own family, or a neighbor's farm, and that young people are a valuable part of farming operations.
"It's good the U.S. Labor Department is rethinking the ridiculous regulations it was going to stick on farmers and their families," says Grassley. "What would be best for everybody involved is to scrap the whole thing and allow farm families to operate in a manner consistent with the rural living that allows children to learn and grow as part of a rural community." Here's a link to the Department of Labor's press release.
A new "parental exemption" rule is expected to be proposed this summer
U.S. Senate ag committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) agrees that 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.
According to the Labor Department, a new "parental exemption" rule is expected to be proposed this summer. The exemption would allow children of any age who are employed by their parent, or a person standing in the place of a parent, to perform any job on a farm owned or operated by their parent or such person standing in place of a parent.
National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson says farming is a lifestyle passed down from generation to generation, so it is critical that farmers are able to teach their children about agriculture while still ensuring that young workers are safe.
Pleased that the U.S. Labor Department listened to concerns of ag community
"NFU is pleased that the administration listened to the concerns of the ag community and determined that these rules would hinder the ability of young workers to learn about agriculture while doing little to make them safer," says 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. 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 our country."
Johnson adds, "NFU is also pleased that the administration is moving forward with the new rules on Agriculture Hazardous Occupations Orders. While it is critical that young workers learn about agriculture, their safety is our top priority. We must ensure that only those who are older and understand the risks are able to perform some of the more dangerous tasks associated with agriculture, such as working inside a grain storage facility.
Any final regulation must make sense; laws and regulations need to be reasonable
"We commend the Department of Labor for reconsidering the proposed rules and ensuring that farming and ranching will continue to be an occupation that can be passed down from generation to generation while still ensuring that young workers are kept safe," says Johnson.American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman says the decision by the U.S. Department of Labor to re-propose the "parental exemption" is the child labor rule is a positive step, but much more work is needed. Farm Bureau says 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. Stallman says that laws and regulations need to be sensible and within reason.