One passionate person can make a significant difference, and a group of impassioned people can change the course of the U.S. Department of Labor. Due to an outpouring of response from family farmers and elected officials nationwide, the DOL announced Feb. 1 that enactment of its new child labor regulations are on hold.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s new rules would have prohibited children from working with animals and from working for a L.L.C. or any top of legal family farming entity. While some rule proponents have pointed out there is a parental exemption, many within the agricultural community believe it’s a grey area. A new “parental exemption” rule is expected to be proposed this summer. According to the DOL, this exemption would allow children of any age who are employed by their parent, or a person standing in the place of a parent, to perform any job on a farm owned or operated by their parent or such person standing in place of a parent.
Responding to the DOL’s announcement about rethinking the “parental exemption,” Missouri hog farmer Chris Chinn said, “It is clear to all of us in the agricultural community that merely ‘tweaking’ the rule will not fix something that we believe is fundamentally flawed.”
Like Chinn, Congressman Tom Latham of Iowa believes the DOL needs to recognize the unique circumstances of family farm youth and multi-generational family partnerships in agricultural operations. In December, he authored and introduced bipartisan legislation that expresses the sense of Congress that the Department of Labor. Congressman Latham says, “ The face of modern agriculture has changed in many ways since the 1970s when these labor regulations were first enacted, and there’s no doubt that they need to be updated. But the Department of Labor must be sensitive to the needs of family farms that use alternate legal structures to stay in business.”
Several other Iowa officials have voiced concerns over the DOL regulations, as well. In November 2011, Gov. Branstad and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey sent a letter to U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis asking the DOL to give Iowa farmers a fair opportunity to comment. They also called the rule “a prime example of federal overreach” and were pleased to hear the DOL is reconsidering its burdensome regulations.
“As I grew up on a family farm, I learned the value of a strong work ethic by working alongside my family,” said Gov. Branstad in a Wallaces Farmer article on Feb. 4. “I firmly believe Iowa farm families are better at ensuring the safety and well-being of their children than bureaucrats in Washington.”
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, in the same Wallaces Farmer article, added, “It is important we continue to provide opportunities for young people to learn about agriculture and gain experience by working on farms in a responsible manner. This announcement by the Department of Labor shows that they are responding to the comments they received and hearing the concerns of the farming community.”
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