Thursday, March 8, 2012

DOL Child Labor Law Revisions

Chad, from Texas, emailed me and asked if I would let you know what I know on the Department of Labor's (DOL) proposed changes to child labor laws. In case you don't know what I'm talking about, here is a link to what the DOL is proposing.

Or, in case you skip the link, here are some of the proposed changes:

The proposed updates include:
  • Strengthening current child labor prohibitions regarding agricultural work with animals in timber operations, manure pits, storage bins and pesticide handling.
  • Prohibiting hired farm workers under the age of 16 from employment in the cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco.
  • Prohibiting youth in both agricultural and nonagricultural employment from using electronic devices, including communication devices, while operating power-driven equipment.
  • Prohibiting hired farm workers under the age of 16 from operating almost all power-driven equipment. A similar prohibition has existed as part of the nonagricultural child labor provisions for more than 50 years. A limited exemption would permit some student-learners to operate certain farm implements and tractors (when equipped with proper rollover protection structures and seat belts) under specified conditions.
  • Preventing children under 18 years of age from being employed in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm-product raw materials. Prohibited places of employment would include country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions. 

What I know may not be any more than you know on this subject, which is incredibly serious and potentially life threatening to many farms and ranches across this country. Basically, this is another attempt by our government to over-regulate its citizens so that they can drag us down to their preferred level of mediocrity through controlling our ability to work. It is ridiculous, frustrating, and completely shocking to me that anyone would even consider proposing these changes.

If you aren't familiar with agriculture, allow me to make a couple points. First, the family structure on a farm or ranch is rarely kids and their parents. It typically involves cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents, distant cousins, and neighbors who you might as well be related to. Part of the proposed rule would limit a youth's ability to work with anyone but his parents, and maybe grandparents, on a farm or ranch. 

Second, tasks like not being able to drive a tractor, not coming into contact with a bull, ride a horse, or be allowed to transport raw farm materials is comparable to saying your child may not come into contact with flour until he/she is sixteen if you own a bakery. Literally is at that level of overkill, with about the same amount of reasoning to back it as you can imagine they would have to keep kids out of contact with flour. Actually it is much the same thing, except it's contact with flour before it's in your kitchen.

I recently sat next to a man who is heavily involved in fighting this proposed rule, and he taught me lot on the subject. First, whoever came up with this idea knows something about agriculture, in his opinion. Why? Because they put the proposed rule out for comment on September 2, which is one of the busiest times of the year for America's farmers, and ranchers, in many cases. They knew our industry wouldn't have time to immediately respond as a whole because we were busy harvesting, weaning, etc... So, as we move forward with this, be aware that timely updates, any future comment periods, and other pertinent information is likely to be released at times when farmers and ranchers are exceptionally busy working, ironically enough.
He also said that one thing he hears a lot in D.C. is that it's okay, they aren't really going to enforce these, but just want to have them updated and current. Really, is anyone buying into that??? No. Don't worry, he isn't either.
He and I also discussed just how safe, or unsafe, our industry is to kids. He had a whole pile of great statistics that I cannot remember, or find at the moment. He mentioned that Hispanic youth who are part of immigrant working families are something like 50-75 percent less likely to suffer an injury working on a farm than they are if they move to an inner-city. So, gangs and other kids are far more likely to result in injury than driving a tractor or riding a horse. He also told me that the most dangerous industry for youth to work in based on data is acting.
In response to eliminating youth under 16 from operating almost all power-driven equipment, he quoted that stock car circuits allow youth to compete, at far greater speeds than a tractor ever dreamed of going, at significantly younger ages. In regard to a component that states youth are unable to manipulate cattle from horseback (ie, ride and move cows). His response is that numerous equine breed organizations, in addition to numerous youth organizations, host contests that prove otherwise.
I apologize for not remembering any more of the very interested and well thought out pieces of information this man had to the rule. The key points here are that there is a lot of data showing agriculture is safe for youth to be involved in, a lot of their proposed rules have no precedence when looking at facts and figures, and basically that it's as ludicrous from that viewpoint as it is from the more emotional standpoint producers often take. The man noted that as a part of the American Farm Bureau Federation, he is fighting on the facts and figures side of the fence, and leaving the emotional side of the battle to the producers. 
You can read some additional information on how the ag industry feels about this issue at these links:

Article One

Article Two

Article Three

This is going to happen, in some form. The DOL has mostly ignored the thousands upon thousands of comments sent in by agriculture producers around the country. But, I do feel better after meeting one of the men fighting this rule face to face with our country's lawmakers.

As for the emotional side of this, here's my personal take. I grew up on an operation that included my parents, aunt and uncle and grandparents. We had a lot of work to do, and not a lot of help. So, at a very young age my siblings and I worked, and worked hard. We had our own horse, knew how to drive a manual pickup, the tractor and various other pieces of equipment, and held long hours some days. We were competent children that could be sent to complete a task, and would. Our level of success was questionable at times, but it was never for a lack of trying.  I didn't just work with my dad either. On any given day I was as likely to be working under my uncle's supervision as my own parents. People also trade work (kids a lot of the time) with neighbors during certain times of the year. 
This law, as currently proposed, would have significantly altered my family's ability to run our operation successfully, not to mention the impact it would have had on me as an individual. Those tasks taught me what work ethic really is, how to be self-sufficient, how to plan, implement and complete a task by myself or in a group setting, and how to work under and/or with a variety of people in both calm and high stress situations.  A person's youth is the cornerstone to their adulthood, and lessons learned early tend to stick. I find it frightening to think out government doesn't want another generation to know how to work.

What can we do? There is still time to submit comments on specific sections of the rule, and several of the links I've provided have information on how to do that. I would also suggest contacting your state representatives, especially if they are unfamiliar with agriculture, and the impact this will have within the industry. You can also offer support, comments, and in some instances your time, through various ag affiliated organizations, including your state stockgrowers/stockmans groups, your state and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the United States Cattlemen's Association (USCA) to name a few. I know the USCA is currently looking for participants for their latest D.C. Fly-In, where you can travel to our nation's capital and meet and discuss current issues, like this one, with various groups and individuals involved in our government.

If you would like to send me an email at with your respectfully written thoughts, comments, personal experiences growing up, or anything else relevant to this rule, I will accept them and do a post of what everyone has to say in a week or so. My thoughts are we can't publicize this enough, through enough venues, using enough concerned people, in our attempt to get the federal government to see reason. If a few people do email me, I too will take the time to write up a much shorter something to include in the post.

Hope this helps Chad, and thank you again for writing me in regard to this issue.


  1. Thanks, that was said a lot better and will reach a lot more people than I can.

  2. Once again, our government is overstepping its boundaries to ensure that family-owned operations fail to succeed.

  3. Great article, interesting topic! Thank you!