Is The Labor Department Barring Kids From Working On Family Farms? No, It’s Not
Welcome to today's Outrage Of The Day
A story over at The Daily Caller is getting a lot of attention in the conservative blogosphere today because of its implication that the Department of Labor is about to issue regulations that would bar children from working on family farms:
A proposal from the Obama administration to prevent children from doing farm chores has drawn plenty of criticism from rural-district members of Congress. But now it’s attracting barbs from farm kids themselves.
The Department of Labor is poised to put the finishing touches on a rule that would apply child-labor laws to children working on family farms, prohibiting them from performing a list of jobs on their own families’ land.
Under the rules, children under 18 could no longer work “in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm product raw materials.”
“Prohibited places of employment,” a Department press release read, “would include country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.”
The new regulations, first proposed August 31 by Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, would also revoke the government’s approval of safety training and certification taught by independent groups like 4-H and FFA, replacing them instead with a 90-hour federal government training course.
Sounds fairly outrageous doesn’t it? Something that’s likely to raise the ire of farm belt voters in an election year, too. Not surprisingly, the blogosphere has picked up on the story and run with it, mostly without checking out the facts behind the report, and even Sarah Palin has chimed in:
The Obama Administration is working on regulations that would prevent children from working on our own family farms. This is more overreach of the federal government with many negative consequences. And if you think the government’s new regs will stop at family farms, think again.
My family is a commercial fishing family, and commercial fishing in Alaska is much like the family farm (but the year ’round farmers no doubt work harder than we do!). I guarantee fishing families wouldn’t stand for this nonsensical intrusion into our lives and livelihoods, and, as a former 4-H member, I don’t believe farm families will either. Our kids learn to work and to help feed America on our nation’s farms, and out on the water.
There’s only one problem. What Palin says here, and what the report in The Daily Caller says, isn’t accurate at all.
Let’s start with the Dept. of Labor’s August 31, 2011 press release, which the Daily Caller linked in its article:
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor is proposing revisions to child labor regulations that will strengthen the safety requirements for young workers employed in agriculture and related fields. The agricultural hazardous occupations orders under the Fair Labor Standards Act that bar young workers from certain tasks have not been updated since they were promulgated in 1970.
The department is proposing updates based on the enforcement experiences of its Wage and Hour Division, recommendations made by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and a commitment to bring parity between the rules for young workers employed in agricultural jobs and the more stringent rules that apply to those employed in nonagricultural workplaces. The proposed regulations would not apply to children working on farms owned by their parents.
The Dept. of Labor repeats this in a subsequent press release, as well as the idea that the new rules would eliminate programs like 4-H and FFA:
The parental exemption for the owner or operator of a farm is statutory and cannot be eliminated through the regulatory process. A child of any age may perform any job, even hazardous work, at any age at any time on a farm owned by his or her parent. A child of any age whose parent operates a farm may also perform any task, even hazardous jobs, on that farm but only outside of school hours. So for children working on farms that are registered as LLCs, but operated solely by their parents, the parental exemption would still apply.
The Department of Labor fully supports the important contributions both 4-H and the FFA make toward developing our children. The proposed rule would in no way prohibit a child from raising or caring for an animal in a non-employment situation — even if the animal were housed on a working farm — as long as he or she is not hired or “employed” to work with the animal. In such a situation, the child is not acting as an “employee” and is not governed by the child labor regulations. And there is nothing in the proposed rule that would prevent a child from being employed to work with animals other than in those specific situations identified in the proposal as particularly hazardous.
Additionally, the new rules would not bar children from working on a farm at all, under current rules children as young as 12 are permitted to perform non-hazardous work and after 16 they are allowed to be employed without restriction. Current law even allows children under 12 to be employed to perform nonhazardous work on small farms with their parents permission. As the press release describes it, “The proposed rule would, however, prohibit the employment of workers under the age of 18 in nonagricultural occupations in the farm-product raw materials wholesale trade industries.”
One can debate the specific merits of these new rules, whether they’re necessary, or whether they’re too far reaching. In fact, let’s do that. But if we’re going to do it, the discussion has to be based in fact and not falsehood, and the representation that these rules would bar children from perform any work at all on a family farm is simply a falsehood.
H/T Rod Dreher and The Christian Science Monitor
Farm Wagon Piled With Bales Of Straw image via Shutterstock
You’re right that any discussion of this controversy should make the parental exception clear at the outset. On the other hand, press coverage in farm communities shows a lot of unfeigned outrage about impacts that fall just outside the parental exception, as on the common practice of having kids assist at an uncle or grandparent’s farm, especially at, e.g. harvest time where many hands are needed to pitch in. If the accounts in the farm papers are right — and I see no indication that they are being manipulated by big-city editors — the Labor Department regs would render illegal much customary practice that has never been illegal up to now and that many parents believe is good for their kids, not just good for their farms.
All valid points, I agree. Which is why accurate reporting is necessary.
Not surprising. Right wing blogs have a habit of being reactionary and precipitous, ignorant and misinformed. Palin of course is all that and more.
P.S. – What makes this faux kerfuffle that much more ironic is, among all the labor-related Obama agencies, the DOL by far has been the most reasonable. We could use a new FLSA, granted, but that’s Congress’ problem, not the DOL’s.
I feel that what the daily caller wrote was truthful, however it could be easily misinterpreted by the way it was presented (which seems to be a trend of most media sources). As far as I can recall, the DC did not state that children could not work on their parent’s farms, it merely said they would not be able to work on family farms. Uncles and Grandfathers are family members. So, while I agree that the article title and some of the content were misleading, what they wrote was technically accurate.
Also, I was still be against the law based on how this article has presented it.
There’s an additional press release not linked here which specifically addresses extended family.
“Solely” by their parents? So what about farm partnerships? They’re not exactly uncommon. They’re especially not uncommon when they include extended family members, but there are also farm partnerships that include a small number of partners. Many of the partners are not family, but those situations are still pretty different from large factory farming, if the parents are one of only a handful of partners.
I think that you’re wrong to say that the reporting was inaccurate. “Family farms” doesn’t just mean “operated solely by their parents.” I think that there’s a valid criticism to say that people might draw a wrong inference, but your reporting dismissing the complaint also seem inaccurate.
@Not Likely: Yes, which was released subsequent to the initial fall 2011 announcement because of precisely the uproar about extended family members and partnerships that the initial rule engendered.
Note from the press release:
That is very different from the September 2011 rule of “operated solely by their parents.”
The final rule taking into account comments has not been published. The interim interpretation does take into account the concerns by applying the previous rules. But does that make it wrong for the Daily Caller to report on the initially proposed rules and the controversy?
Indeed, there’s a strong argument that since the comment period is still open, it’s entirely appropriate for the media to raise awareness and encourage input to the Department of Labor.
Let’s consider the timeline:
1) January 2011: Executive Order asks for a rule on child labor on farms
2) September 2011: Department of Labor publishes initial rule restricting child labor on extended family and farm partnerships (compared to current law) and invites public comment.
3) Backlash ensues from the rural community.
4) February 2012: Growing concern in the rural community causes the Department of Labor to issue a press release that promises that the previous existing rule allowing child labor on partnerships with substantial interest would be followed until the final rule is published, and that the role would be reconsidered.
5) April 2012: With the final rule still not published, the Daily Caller reports on the controversy and summarizes the initially proposed rule and the backlash in the rural community. It does not report the DoL’s press release from February.
The Daily Caller was wrong not to report the DoL’s press release and slight climbdown, but certainly the issue is not over until the final rule is published.
A number of farming families in the rural area I grew up, farmed neighboring farms by renting the land. Often with sons and daughters, that to my recollection at the time were minors, but not 12 year olds either. This could still cause some issues in rural communities.
I think everyone is missing the point which is the scary part.
The fact that this executive order was even issued is commentary on this administration.
How dare they? Obviously they have to scramble to reword the edict. It was written by someone who never set foot on. A farm.
Pallin was perfectly correct in her analysis of this overreaching program.
Shut down the dept of labor. And don’t forget to vote this fall.
OK, while we parse the text to death to see if there is some way we can show that in trying to protect children Obama is showing his true colors as a farm destroying commmie pinko, lets not forget to wonder who is really ginning up this outrage. Perhaps it is the farmers who want to employ twelve year old migrant laborers? I don’t pretend to know. But I would be interested in what prompted the review of the law…
Wasn’t this all started because of some accidents where kids had their arms ripped off by threshing machines?
I really doubt that the Administration decided to come up with this rule just for the sake of coming up with a rule. There’s either a loophole out there or some other problem that it’s trying to address.
(No, and I don’t know how “protecting kids from getting their arms ripped off” turns into the “no child labor on non-parental farms”, but that’s the sausage machine producing regulations. Get mad at that, but don’t get mad at the government trying to keep children from serious injury.)
If you have to lie in order to make your argument…it ain’t much of an argument.
Funny that Republicans and their partisan hack supporters like Daily Caller and Fox News are found to be lying on a regular basis. Doocy just the other day was caught making crap up about what Obama said…or more accurately…didn’t say. Certainly Palin, quoted above, has been shown to be pathological. And Romney is severly fact-challenged as well.
Doug hits the nail on the head…
Climate Change and AGW come to mind. Instead of discussing what if anything to do about a problem that every single qualified scientist accepts as fact…Republicans choose instead to make up their own science. In order to make almost every single one of their policy arguments Republicans are forced to lie. A fundamental change to Medicare…eliminating the program as it now exists…becomes preserving Medicare.
How is it that no one in that once great political party recognizes rank and rampant dishonesty as a problem?
I don’t get it. Has there been a problem with kids working on farms for over the past 200 years??? Guess we should be happy that Barry Obama is here to save the children from the “evil” farming community…..
You apparently didn’t read the post.
As for the rules…
Doug, have you seen links to the recommendations from the NIOSH?
Hey, Hey Norm…
Don’t start bringing up climate change, especially with such a broad brush. Presenting it the way you did (i.e., Republicans “make up their own science”) is strikingly opposite of the very quote you cited from Doug immediately before.
Re: the farming regulations. I grew up in a farming community, but I was a town kid. I wasn’t related to any other families in the community, but worked on farms from the age of 12 – it was the first job available to kids in my community and there were lots of us “pitching in”. The problem that I have with this law is the seeming disconnect by lawmakers that having kids do work that is hard (or even possibly dangerous) is by definition a bad thing that must be regulated. Every day is hard and possibly dangerous on a farm.
The “feel” of this to me is very similar to Jack Nicholson’s character’s speech in a Few Good Men (go with me) when he is telling Tom Cruise’s character about what happens every day that people take for granted – the “you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall” speech. Farmers are out there working, every day. Working hard, every day. Providing food for people who have no idea how the food they eat every day has come to be in front of them. To paraphrase from the Nicholson speech, farmers may wish to state: “I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who eats the very food that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it.”
If there are farms out there abusing kids, using them as slave labor, then by all means shut them down. But this Department of Labor approach is entirely too far reaching and, in my opinion, smacks of ignorance for how daily Labor is actually done. Ironic.
Doug isn’t a Republican, he’s a Libertarian. Norm wasn’t accusing Doug of making things up about Climate Change or anything else (the hobbyhorse in question re: Doug is “both sides do it” false equivalence, not making things up). He was accusing the GOP of making things up, and using CC as an example.
As for the rest, I’m open to the possibility that you’re right that the (as yet unknown revised rule) will turn out to be a clumsy one. But at this point, with the above information only, I don’t know how one can make an informed judgment.
I’m curious to know: 1) the original basis for revising the original (1970) rules; 2) what the NIOSH recommendations were; and 3) what the revised rule will say.
I don’t really know how to have an intelligent conversation about this without knowing those things.
How is it opposite? Republicans have made up their own science regarding AGW.
@Doug Mataconis: Hey Doug, how does one get a hold of you? I have a link to send you for the daily game of “Truth? Or Politics?” …
And how would you respond to the fact that the large majority of ‘family farms’ are in fact NOT owned by the parents, but by grandpa, and dad iwll inherit them upon grandpa’s death?
I grew up on a farm. My brother and my mother still operate it. Because I am not an owner, my son couldn’t go work for my brother. I couldn’t take my son along to ride after cattle owned by a longtime family friend (a longstanding tradition…cattle roundups, you may have heard of them? Good ways for kids to earn money to buy their first car, you know.)
Or the fact that most ‘family farms’ are, in fact, LLC’s or Corporations, for liability purposes? That right there eliminates the ‘family farm’ exemption, because now they are one of those evil ‘corporate’ farms, even if they only farm 1200 acres (a pittance, for anyone who thinks that is an impressive number).
Anyone who thinks this is even remotely ‘okay’ deserves to starve, because when you choke out the farms, your cheap food supply that you are so accustomed to WILL disapear.
Have fun with that.
Why fix what isn’t broken?
@Walter Olson: As a child I lived and worked on my grandparents farm, she sold raw milk, she structured deposits, didn’t check her crops for geneticly patented materials and she did not label the food she sold. In 2012 she would be public enemy number one. Isn’t the Monsanto/ConAgra influence in the war on farmers obvious?
If you don’t like crony-capitalism, stop supporting idiotic rules like this one or stop participating in your CSA because you insult them by supporting such drivel. These rules are NEVER meant for the public’s protection from themselves, they are meant 100% of the time to protect a corporation from the market (CSA’s, buy local, organics, sustainable farms, etc).
Yes, the CSA is a MARKET function and they are very threatening to Corp Ag even though they are just in their infancy as a popular movement. If every green loving person suddenly stopped buying their groceries at the Super Walmart and joined a CSA, where would that leave Monsanto then?
Enjoy your GM food and your obesity, naives!
@Hey Norm: Well if it ain’t broke then don’t try to stick your nose it there and fix it(DOL)…… Our family farmers aren’t broken. They teach their children responsiblilty and RESPECT something that is lacking in this world now days. Fox news tells you more truth then the others. Umm I heard that NBC OR ABC one may be sued for lying about the Travon Martin case. Areosmith song “Theres something wrong with the world today” and its Obama…….
Someone f’ed up on the Travon Martin case…and they were fired. there may be another firing in the offing.
Doocy on Fox was just caught lying earlier this week. Will he be fired? The facts don’t match your ideology.
As for the farm issue…I did not comment on that…only the propesity for Republicans to lie.
However…if I were to comment I would wonder if farmers, both family and corporate owned, would be willing to give up their Government subsidies in exchange for less regulation.
So my grand kids would not be allowed to work at caving time or round up for shipping of cattle.
Kids in 4H programs raise livestock for sale to build the college fund.
Doug’s headline is as inaccurate as saying that the DoL is banning kids from working on all family farms.
Many family farms, I think actually most, are operated by extended family members, as partnerships, or as corporations. It was an enormous oversight to limit the initially proposed rule to only farms operated “solely by the parents.”
That initial rule would ban kids from working on many, perhaps most, family farms in which their parents or family had a large operating interest.
Granted, the DoL appears to have realized this and issued an interim ruling and asked for additional comment, but the final rule has not been published.
Doug’s post dismissing the issue is as misleading as implying that kids are being banned from all family farms.
I assume that that is because he and other city dwellers are not familiar with how common partnerships and LLCs are among farmers. I accept that it was probably an innocent mistake by the DoL.
The initial rule does indeed sound clumsy and needed revision. That’s what public comment is for, no? So now they’re revising. Next step: see what the revision looks like.
I’d still like to know what prompted the review in the first place. The first question has to be: what is the scope of the problem (if any)?
A good reporter would ask that question. A good reporter would also hopefully think to check for Big Ag involvement.
Based on some quick googling, apparently ~75% of injuries for youth workers occur in agriculture.
The question is: do these rules address the problem, and is the hassle worth it?
Some of the rules make sense to me (re: mechanized equipment operation), whereas others don’t (tobacco seems to have been targetted ’cause tobaccy is Bad, M’kay!).
@Rob in CT: Yah, that’s the 34M$ question: what problem is this proposed rule supposed to be solving?
(To the peanut gallery: I wouldn’t get into too much of a hissy fit concerning the contents of rules stuck out there for comments. Remember who gets charged to write these ghastly first-round things–the lowest peon on the totem pole who can’t find someone else to delegate it to. You expect crafty wisdom at this point? You should see the contents of what the Patent Office puts out sometimes as its first drafts for Bright Ideas, oh LORD….)
@Rob in CT:
How do you think a nicotine patch works? Nicotine is absobed through the skin, and tobacco contains nicotine.
People who handle tobacco plants absorb nicotine. It’s a pesticide. It’s a toxin.
Google Green Tobacco Sickness. Handling tobacco plants makes people sick. This isn’t some moral stance about keeping chidren from any stage of the cigarette manufacuring process. It’s about regulating how children interact with toxic chemicals.
In other countries, children work full time in tobacco farms, and have nioctine levels as if they’d smoked 50 cigarettes after a day of work. I know this is a conservative board, but isn’t that a state of affairs that most people here think should be prevented in America?
You quoted: “the discussion has to be based in fact and not falsehood”
Then you immediately use a broad brush to paint Republicans as liars who made up AGW science. You use the same brush to imply that Republicans deny a “fact”. These generalizations are “falsehoods” by their very nature, and abruptly stop the kind of debate that Doug was asking for in this particular case. That is how it is opposite.
I don’t want to turn this discussion into a climate change debate, but “Republicans” don’t make up science any more than “Democrats” do. The scientific method very simply tries to answer a question, by doing research, proposing an answer, doing experiments and analyzing data, coming to a conclusion and then telling others about it. If someone else takes that same data and comes to a different conclusion, that isn’t “making up science”, that’s “science”. Then debate occurs. The kind of debate you stifle by casting a “liars” net over those who propose a different answer or analyze data and come to a different conclusion. I’m not sure there’s a “qualified scientist” in the world who would argue that a greenhouse effect is not a fact. BUT, whether the climate is changing differently than historical “natural” changes is a subject of debate. Whether or not man-made CO2 emissions have a discernable signal in a presumed unnatural changing climate is a subject of debate. Whether or not a changing climate is necessarily a bad thing is a subject of debate. IF man’s emissions are causing climate change and IF the changes are bad and need to be mitigated, then what, if anything, could be done to effectively stop these things from occurring is a subject of debate.
At that point, you fall out of science and into economics. If something is to be done, at what economic cost is a subject of debate.
Town Kid, Environmental Scientist, Air Quality Specialist, B.S. Meteorology 1993
@Hey Norm: Generalizations..classic sign of ignorance.
I hadn’t considered that. I will, in fact, do some googling.
The first question that comes to mind (pre-googling) is: wouldn’t an alternative solution (for all workers, not just kids) be to wear gloves?
Heh, most of the self-identified Conservative commentors loudly proclaim that it’s actually a liberal board. Either way, I, personally, identify as (mildly) liberal.
The only place thats subject to debate is in the minds of Republicans. And it is subject to debate in their minds because influential Republicans like the Koch Brothers have funded junk science in order to confuse and create the illusion of debate. Republican leaders have, either knowingly or foolishly, taken hold of those illusions and run with them.
Hardly. There are conservatives on this board, but it’s not a conservative board. I mean, if it was a conservative board I wouldn’t be misquoted and accused so freakin’ often.
For those interested:
It does indeed seem that GTS is a real thing to be concerned with. There have, in fact, been cases of it in kids in the US.
That, for me, clears the bar of “is this an actual problem.”
Please tell me if I understand your position:
The way the climate is changing now is different than in any other time throughout history and it cannot be debated. If you wish to debate that point, you are a) Republican, b) knowingly or unknowingly acting under a false illusion, c) foolish, and d) your false illusions and foolishness are a result of junk science paid for by the Brothers Koch.
If that is not your position, please clarify.
Norm – I beg you, would you be willing to let the CC comparison go here?
I’m not the moderator, and I’m not making a demand. I’m asking. Please. I have never seen one of those discussions bring more light than heat, and this topic wasn’t even about CC. I understand the comparison, but it’s a stretch, man.
I bet there will be some CC discussions before the election (oh, joy!).
My position is that Republicans must rely on falsehood in order to make arguments for the majority of their policy positions. Positions and stands like Tax Cuts that pay for themselves, Death Panels, WMD in Iraq, Obama apologizing for America, etc. The list is long.
Emblematic of this is the AGW issue. 98% of climatologists that actively publish research on climate change agree that human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures. Despite this overwhelming agreement among experts in the field Republicans in general, and party leaders specifically, rely on junk science, more often than not funded by the Koch Brothers, in order to mislead and direct the discussion away from the more helpful question of what, if anything, to do about it.
I forgot one; eliminating Medicare is preserving Medicare.
Wow, I’m seriously left laughing right now. These new regulations even with revisions is enough to be outraged over. It’s pretty clear these Democrats never stepped on a farm to know that. There is absolutely no need for anymore regulation, ever hear of farmer common sense? All the stupid ones died out. Farm parents, 4-H, and FFA will always do a better job than some govt. program.
To follow up,
The next thing is to ask “ok, what’s the best solution?”
Specifically for GTS, protective clothing seems like a good idea.
I don’t need the Gov’t babysitting me telling me what’s “hazerdous” for my kids. I’m a parent. I will give them farm chores I deem age appropriate and safe. Bills and laws are not necessary
Quite a few complaints that the rule doesn’t take into account either extended family or LLCs should read the link provided by Not Likely in the 5th comment of the thread. Both issues are being addressed, and it does no good follow the Daily Caller’s lead in pretending otherwise.
if it was a conservative board I wouldn’t be misquoted and accused so freakin’ often.
Yeah, conservatives never do that!
@Rob in CT: many farm kids have been operating farm equipment since age 12….or usually much younger so this rule really hurts farmers. The younger you get farm kids hooked on farming the better. I personally worked in pig barn since age 6 with my twin brother and developed an amazing work ethic and love for agriculture. The avg age of farmers is 65 and if we don’t keep incentives for the youth there is going to be a lot of starving Americans.
@David: This rule would only affect that if you were a paid employee since age 6, working on a farm that was not owned by parents or relatives. If you were working on your grandparents farm, or with the 4-H/FFA programs, nothing will change.
@David M: David as a farm kid myself I helped a lot of non-family people, most farm kids do. Another problem is that farm kids usually run machinery to transport the grain around. A person has to ask, “why are we trying to further regulate an industry where farmers and their children that the govt. wants to protect are opposed to such executive orders? Is it so the govt. can punish and take the farmers land if an accident would occur?
Democrats say want to protect the family farm but in reality they want the end of land ownership.
@Hey Norm: well if it makes you feel better if the U.S. would warm up the U.S. and its allies would have economic gains and be able to feed more people. Gota love those land grant universities.
Remember, this rule is about paid employment. This isn’t about chores. I don’t see any reason to believe that chores (even chores that are part of the deal to receive an allowance) are affected by this at all.
I’m betting that, in the end, working for family will be protected. DoL had a carveout for parentally-operated farms and got pushback that the carveout was too narrow. I’d expect a larger carveout when the revised rules come out.
If you have a look at that study of “Green Tobacco Syndrome” that I linked to, it mentions there are three main categories of youth workers who work with Tobacco. Family is only one category. Another category: migrant labor. I strongly suspect the updated rules were not at all aimed at family farms. The initial drafting was too broad and therefore needed revision. This is happening.
This is paranoid nonsense. Democrats want no such thing.
Now, if the re-write is still problematic, by all means bring it up. But we don’t have the re-write yet.
And here we go:
So: the pushback was successful. Safety training programs seem like a perfectly reasonable step, instead of a regulation that was hard to word properly.
But holy hell are the comments on that story moronic. A total cesspool. I know, I know: never read the comments section of a news story. I forgot sometimes. Wow.
It just makes me like OTB all the more.