From LakeNewsOnline.com, Rance Burger, 28 Dec 2011.
Lake of the Ozarks, MO — Proposed changes to farm labor laws may change the landscape of education in rural communities across the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, and beyond.
The U.S. Department of Labor will consider implementing new rules for youth farm labor in 2012, rules that Missouri congressmen and educators say would harm families, students, and farmers. The Department of Labor will consider changing the Fair Labor Standards Act, which has not been modified in 40 years. The changes would limit types of work that minors could do in agriculture. Some would apply to workers under 16, while others would apply to anyone under 18 who does farm work.
“We feel that the proposed child labor law change would not be beneficial for our program or students. Over the years we have received many positive comments about our rural students and their good work ethic. We feel that the safe operation of equipment and the proper handling of livestock and poultry starts at an early age. Not letting young men and women take advantage of this opportunity would not only be wrong, but very ignorant,” Eldon High School FFA Advisor Matt Biddle said.
Eldon offers 15 agriculture classes through the Eldon Career Center. Its Future Farmers of America program routinely sends its participants to state and national competitions in an array of disciplines. Each champion starts out as a young participant who works their way to the elite level.
“The life skills that are learned and developed in agriculture are one of the things that has made our country great. I can’t imagine not encouraging some of our younger students to help out in the show arena at fairs or helping their neighbors on the farm. This goes against many principles of our program,” Biddle said.
U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, a Miller County native from St. Elizabeth, has taken up the cause of fighting the Department of Labor’s rule change proposal. Any changes to the labor rules for farms would not necessarily require congressional approval before implementation and enforcement.
“This rule jeopardizes our nation’s agricultural heritage and hinders the ability of young Americans to gain valuable work experience. As written, these regulations are overly burdensome to agriculture producers and would punish an industry that has made significant gains in the safety of its younger workers over the last several decades. The safety of all workers is of utmost importance, but these regulations are harmful to the way agriculture has been practiced in the United States for generations.” Luetkemeyer said.
Luetkemeyer isn’t the only Missouri congressman involved in battling the Department of Labor.
“Farmers and ranchers care deeply about the safety of those working on their farms,” U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt said. “But this rule is absurd, and it would hurt these job creators who rely on young people to assist with the day-to-day operations of American farms.”
According to Luetkemeyer and Blunt’s offices, children who work on their own parents’ farms would be exempt from any regulations. But the changes would apply to families wishing to hire laborers outside their family at certain times of the year, even if those laborers are trusted friends or distant relatives.
One group has given its support to the proposed changes. United Farm Workers, a California-based farm workers union founded in 1962 by Cesar Chavez, applauds changes that would bar children as young as 12 from driving tractors or picking fruit and vegetables in fields.
Blunt, who grew up on a dairy farm, says the new regulations would be an overreaction and would hamper agriculture education programs across the state.
“The next generation of farmers and ranchers need hands-on experience and skills to meet the challenge of feeding a rapidly growing world. Not only would this rule prevent young people from learning how to safely work in this industry, but it would harm programs like 4-H and FFA that help foster and develop critical skills for future leaders in agriculture,” Blunt said.
The Department of Labor fielded public comments on the proposed labor changes until Dec. 1. There is no timeframe for when any decision on the proposal will be tendered.
Proposed labor changes as they relate to youth employment in agriculture include:
- Strengthening current child labor prohibitions regarding agricultural work with animals in timber operations, manure pits, storage bins and pesticide handling.
- Prohibiting hired farm workers under the age of 16 from employment in the cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco.
- Prohibiting hired farm workers under the age of 16 from operating almost all power-driven equipment.
- Preventing children under 18 years of age from being employed in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm-product raw materials. Prohibited places of employment would include grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.