As the U.S. Department of Labor pushes to restrict the ability of youth to do farm work, those close to the land are beginning to fight back. Historically, family farms have been exempted from such rules, but Representative Tom Latham, R-Iowa, has expressed concerns that a new proposal could be interpreted to exclude operations that are partly owned by extended family members such as grandparents, aunts or uncles.
In response, Latham has authored and introduced bipartisan legislation that expresses the sense of Congress that the Secretary of Labor should recognize the unique circumstances of family farm youth and multi-generational family partnerships in agricultural operations when drafting regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Representative Dan Boren, D-Okla., is co-sponsoring the legislation.
Latham is looking for additional input from farmers and agricultural groups such as FFA and 4-H on the topic and expects to introduce additional legislation after Congress reconvenes next year that will update U.S. code to reflect the realities of modern farming.
Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, says the proposal to restrict child labor on farms doesn’t pass the common sense test and he’s written the Labor Secretary urging the idea be scuttled.
Grassley has joined others in complaining to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, whose agency wants to reduce the high rate of child injuries and fatalities from farm machinery and animals. But Grassley argues some of labor’s proposed restrictions are "ridiculous."
"Such as a prohibition of a young person working with a six-month-old bull calf," Grassley said. "Yet anyone works with beef cattle knows that a six-month-old bull calf doesn't pose a harm or extraordinary threat to anybody."
Grassley argues if the Labor Department wants to improve farm safety, it can do that through its safety promotion programs, not new regulations. Grassley called work on the farm a "rite of passage" for young men and women growing up, whether its detassling corn, working livestock or baling hay.
Grassley won’t argue with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack who defends the proposed rule as a way to deal with a high rate of farm machinery accidents involving youth, but the Grassley says the rule creates big problems.
"With a lot of farm families, kids help neighbors," Grassley said. "And it's my understanding that if you are a self-employed farmer, filing the ordinary income tax, that the rules don't apply to you, but if you have incorporated your farm they do apply to you, so you've got that silliness."
Grassley says generations of farm youngsters have "cut their teeth" working on mom and dad’s farm, or that of a neighbor and now the Labor Department wants to change that on its own, without any request from Congress.