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April 2012 Volume 18 Number 2
DOL: Child Labor
The US Department of Labor on September 2, 2011 proposed to tighten farm safety standards, barring children under 16 from operating tractors or combines and working more than six feet from the ground. DOL Secretary Hilda Solis said: "Children employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America. Ensuring their welfare is a priority of the department, and this proposal is another element of our comprehensive approach."<< back
Under current regulations, children 16 and older may perform any farm job, including agricultural occupations declared hazardous by DOL, at any time, including during school hours, and children 14 and older may work outside school hours in any agricultural occupation except those declared hazardous by DOL. These regulations do not apply to youth who work on farms owned or operated by their parents.
DOL, which has not changed its youth in farm work rules since 1970, said it wanted to have the same regulations governing children working in agriculture and in nonfarm occupations. The September 2, 2011 regulations bar children under 16 from operating most power-driven equipment, bar them from roofs and scaffolds at heights exceeding six feet, and prohibit them from handling pesticides. Children 17 and younger could not work at grain handing facilities and those operating machinery could not wear music headphones.
DOL cited a Government Accountability Office study that found that the four percent of working youth employed in agriculture during the 1990s incurred 40 percent of the youth occupational fatalities, 21 per 100,000 full-time equivalents for workers aged 15 to 24 in agriculture compared to four per 100,000 in all industries. One report suggested that 26,000 children a year were injured while working on farms in 2010, and that 53 percent of the work-related fatalities of workers 15 to 18 were in agriculture.
The proposed regulation drew fire from farm groups and the introduction of S 2221, the Preserving America's Family Farms Act (HR 4147 is a similar bill). S 2221 would exempt children employed on farms owned or operated by their parents and the activities of nonfarm children enrolled in agriculture education programs.
On March 20, 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, after his victory in Illinois, said: "Under President Obama, bureaucrats prevent drilling rigs from going to work in the Gulf?They even tell farmers what their 15-year-old sons and daughters can and can't do on the family farm."
Senator John Thune (R-SD) said "This is another example of the Obama administration initiating unsolicited regulations that would prohibit normal practices that have been carried out in rural areas for generations? not to mention limiting a desperately needed workforce to replace the current generation of farmers whose average age is nearing 60 years old."
The 2011 film, The Harvest (La Cosecha), alleges that almost 500,000 children as young as six harvest up to 25 percent of all crops in the United States. The film says that most child farm workers are US citizens who earn $1,000 a year working 30-hour weeks. Film makers hope that the Children's Act for Responsible Employment (CARE) Act, which would require that children be a minimum of 14 years old to work in the fields (exempting family farms) will be enacted.
Tennessee's legislature in March 2012 approved HB 2669, which would prohibit spending state funds to enforce DOL's new child labor regulations.
Home Care Workers. DOL proposed that the Fair Labor Standards Act's minimum wage and overtime regulations be extended to in-home care workers employed by third parties such as staffing agencies. A March 20, 2012 hearing on the proposal featured testimony from advocates on both sides, with some asserting the result is likely to be fewer hours for in-home caregivers and others asserting that better FLSA protections would shift government monies from staffing agency profits to workers' wages.
DOL said that state laws already apply to half of in-home care workers, so requiring adherence to FLSA standards nationwide would only affect the other half.
Chris Blank, "Missouri officials object to proposed farm work rules," News-Leader, March 24, 2012.