PINEDALE – Two months after Wyoming Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso teamed up with 36 colleagues to sponsor the “Preserving America’s Family Farm Act,” the Department of Labor (DOL) has backtracked on a proposed rule that would have restricted what sort of agricultural work young people could perform.
The rules, if implemented, would have affected youth working on farms not belonging to their parents, including operations owned by aunts and uncles or grandparents.
Current law allows hired youth to perform different tasks at different ages, including tractor operation at the age of 15 or, in some cases, 14. The DOL has cited this provision as exposing youth to undue danger, and the proposed changes to the law would have prohibited hired youth under 16 from operating any “power-driven” equipment. This could range from tractors and loaders to lawnmowers and all-terrain vehicles.
The restrictions would also have reduced the types of 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America) projects minors could participate in. The new rules would have prevented youth under 18 from being near certain age animals without supervision. In March, Youth Development Education and Sublette County 4-H director Robin Schamber told the Roundup this and similar changes would decimate the livestock projects many young people work on every year.
In response to the DOL’s withdrawal of the proposed rules, both Enzi and Barrasso lauded the decision, although Barrasso was skeptical as to the DOL’s motivation for the apparent change of heart.
“This rule would have threatened successful farm safety training and certification programs like 4-H, Extension Service and FFA,” he said in a statement. “In order to protect Wyoming’s rural values and ensure the future of our agricultural communities, I will fight to make sure this rule is never finalized.”
Enzi, slightly more sanguine, called the reversal a “win” for the agricultural and rural lifestyle.
“The federal government has no place telling families how they can raise their children on the farm,” he said in a release. “Wyoming ranchers and farmers stood up to Washington’s overreach and their voices were heard.”
Despite strong opposition from centers of agriculture, a number of groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), supported the proposed changes, citing the danger of agricultural work and the exploitation of migrant labor. HRW, an international organization, argued children are overworked and underpaid in agricultural work, and they are often given hazardous tasks, such as working with pesticides and heavy machinery. The group’s website cites the statistic that children who work in agriculture “die at four times the rate of other young workers.”
HRW supported the provision allowing young people to work on their parents’ farms, but it said the restrictions would have protected agriculture workers the same way current laws protect young workers in other fields. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis had also argued for the same degree of parity in labor laws.
While Barrasso and Enzi are encouraged by the news, Barrasso is certainly not letting his guard down. He accused Solis of withdrawing the proposal in a response to election year politics.
“It’s clear that the only reason the Obama Administration canceled this absurd rule is because of the President’s upcoming election. The fact that the Administration even proposed it in the first place shows how out of touch they are with hard working family farms across the country and their way of life,” he said. “We cannot back down against Washington’s continued efforts to control our lives and change our values.”For the complete article see the 05-04-2012 issue.
Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 05-04-2012 paper.