Labor Department to modify young farm worker proposal


The U.S. Department of Labor on Wednesday announced that it will modify its proposed rule changes that deal with children who work on farms. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said her agency has agreed to work with the USDA to draft a new set of standards that are more suitable for farm families.

The original proposal called for a ban on children younger than 16 from using most power-driven equipment and would have prevented minors from working in feedlots, grain bins and stockyards.

The agency heard from thousands of farm families, lawmakers and industry officials since September who lobbied against the changes. As a result, Solis says a new proposal will have broader exemptions for children whose parents own or operate farms, or have a substantial interest in a farm partnership.

“The Labor Department listened to farmers and ranchers across the country,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This announcement and the additional opportunity for comment represent a common-sense approach to strengthen our agricultural economy while keeping farm kids safe.”

Under current law, the federal parental exemption allows 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 the place of a parent. Congress created that exemption in 1966 when it expanded protections for children employed in agriculture and prohibited their employment in jobs the Department of Labor declared particularly hazardous for children under the age of 16 to perform.

In testimony Thursday morning before the House Small Business Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade, Labor Department Deputy Administrator Nancy Leppink told lawmakers what prompted the change.

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Farm groups had complained that the initial rules – proposed last year – would upset the tradition of children being able to learn and work on a farm.  Leppink said she wanted to make it clear what the agency is NOT doing.

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The Labor Department will propose the modified rules this summer – and offer a separate comment period on the changes.  The agency says it will continue to review the more than 18,000 comments it has already received on its earlier proposal.