Heat from Farmers Results in Rethinking of Youth Labor Limits

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrea Billups, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Bowing to an angry backlash from agriculture groups and family farmers across the country, the Obama administration Wednesday said it would scale back proposed new rules that would have sharply limited the amount of work young people can do on farms.

Communities across the rural heartland had attacked the rules, saying they threatened a traditional way of life and could undermine the viability of many family farming operations.

The Labor Department announced Wednesday it would repropose the new regulations, allowing for more public comment on whether children could engage in farm jobs, including working with livestock and equipment.

Department officials said they were seeking a balance between protecting child workers in hazardous conditions and respecting rural traditions.

The parental exemption rule, which is covered by the department's Wage and Hour Division, sets the rules on which children may be allowed to work on family farms.

The rule's original language exempted youths only on farms wholly owned or operated by their parents, but did not include thousands of farms owned by closely held corporations or partnerships of family members and other relatives.

The change sparked outrage last fall, particularly across the Midwest, where such summer jobs as corn-detasseling, where teens hand-strip the tops off of stalks to help cross-pollinate future crops, has long been seen as a way for teens to make some spending money and to forge a strong work ethic.

It's a positive step, said Paul Schlegel, director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau of the modifications. We felt that what they were doing was wholly inconsistent with the way the law had been interpreted for decades.

Paul Zimmerman, executive director of governmental relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, also welcomed the announcement, but said his group still was wary of what the final rules could entail.

The Labor Department move does not resolve the long list of concerns that our organization has with the entire rule package, Mr. Zimmerman said in a statement.

The Farm Bureau led a coalition of more than 70 agriculture organizations that pressured the Labor Department to reconsider what would be the first major rewrite of farm labor standards since the 1970s. …