AFBF says farm youth labor rule overreaches DOL authority

Created: 12/02/11 (Fri) | Topic: Issues

Responding to proposed child labor regulations, the American Farm Bureau Federation this week filed comments on behalf of more than 70 agricultural organizations in response to a proposal by the Labor Department that would limit youth employment opportunities on farms and ranches.

AFBF also filed separate comments on its own behalf supplementing its views on the DOL proposal.

The coalition comments focused on what Farm Bureau and other agriculture organizations see as over-reaching regulatory efforts by DOL. Most prominent is the proposal’s potential impact on family farms. The coalition comments urged the department “to maintain the integrity of the family farm exemption approved by Congress.”

“Farmers and ranchers are more interested than anyone else in assuring the safety of farming operations,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “We have no desire at all to have young teenagers working in jobs that are inappropriate or entail too much risk.”

Stallman added that families, family partnerships and family corporations own 98 percent of the approximately 2 million farms and ranches in the country, and “their right to operate their farms with family members is specifically permitted by Congress. We don’t want to see those rights infringed.”

Farm Bureau also noted that the proposed regulation seems to go well beyond DOL’s authority. The department has the authority to prohibit youth employment in jobs that are “particularly hazardous” but the department’s proposal would prohibit youth from working in any job with “power-driven equipment.” Read literally, the department’s proposal would prohibit a youth under 16 from working in any job that had even simple power tools like a battery-operated screw driver. The coalition argued that DOL should withdraw the rule and make sure that it is following the intent of Congress in only addressing occupations that are particularly hazardous.

Another concern with the proposal cited by the coalition is a potential prohibition on youth harvesting fruits and vegetables, which would prevent high school and college students from working what are considered traditional summer jobs in rural areas. Such regulation would create an even tighter supply of agriculture labor at a time when it is much needed, the coalition said.

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