Farm Bureau to meet with Labor Dept. over child ag worker rules

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, February 8, 2012 -The American Farm Bureau Federation will meet with the Department of Labor next week to discuss the revised agricultural child labor rules first proposed last September.

“We think there are legal issues in how they went about this,” said Paul Schlegel, AFBF Environment and Energy Policy Team Director, at a meeting of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) Tuesday morning.

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The Fair Labor Standards Act amended in 1966 prevents children under age 16 from performing agricultural work that is “particularly dangerous.” Children whose parents are owners or operators of the farm or ranch are fully exempt at any age.

The Department of Labor issued its updated proposal of agricultural child labor rules last September, with additional restrictions for youth in agriculture. The rules include a provision defining the “parental exemption as limited to parents (or someone standing in for a parent) who are whole owners or operators of the agricultural operation.

A re-proposal of the exemption announced last week goes back to a broader interpretation, which includes parents who are “substantial” owners or operators of the farm or ranch as exempt from the requirements.

Schlegel said AFBF is looking into whether Labor Department field officials committed any violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act by enforcing the stricter “parental exemption” interpretation years before its release in September 2011. The “parental exemption” portion has been re-opened after the proposed rules last September drew more than 10,000 comments from the public. USDA said it welcomed the re-proposal.

"The Labor Department listened to farmers and ranchers across the country,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in reaction to the Labor Department's announcement. “This announcement and the additional opportunity for comment represent a common-sense approach to strengthen our agricultural economy while keeping farm kids safe.”

Despite the time for additional comment, Schlegel questioned the timing of the proposed rules and said that “the anxiety level has not subsided” within AFBF. He said the Department of Labor invited AFBF to meet one week from Thursday to discuss issues with the proposed rules.

A hearing in the House Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade hearing last week demonstrated the bi-partisan opposition to the Labor Department's proposal.

“Together, the DOL's rules are a step back for family farmers and the communities that they support,” said Rep. Mark Critz, D-Penn. “If enacted, the rule would equate agricultural labor with non-agricultural labor, something that makes no sense to anyone that has ever stepped foot in a rural community.” Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., said that he may propose legislation to prevent the entire set of proposed rules from implementation.

In the Senate, Pat Roberts, R-KS, offered support for withdrawing the proposed rule.

“I encourage them to scrap the whole thing and start over,” he emphasized.


Original story printed in February 8, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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