Responding to proposed child labor regulations, last week the American Farm Bureau Federation filed comments on behalf of more than 70 agricultural organizations in response to a proposal by the Labor Department that would limit youth employment opportunities on farms and ranches. AFBF also filed separate comments on its own behalf supplementing its views on the DOL proposal. Farm Bureau noted that the proposed regulation seems to go well beyond DOL’s authority.
The department has the authority to prohibit youth employment in jobs that are "particularly hazardous" but the department’s proposal would prohibit youth from working in any job with "power-driven equipment." Read literally, the department’s proposal would prohibit a youth under 16 from working in any job that had even simple power tools like a battery-operated screw driver. The coalition argued that DOL should withdraw the rule and make sure that it is following the intent of Congress in only addressing occupations that are particularly hazardous.
"We have no desire at all to have young teenagers working in jobs that are inappropriate or entail too much risk," said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. "Farmers and ranchers are more interested than anyone else in assuring the safety of farming operations and their right to operate their farms with family members is specifically permitted by Congress. We don’t want to see those rights infringed."
The National Pork Producers Council, the American Sheep Industry Association and the National Turkey Federation, were part of the coalition. The group said that many youth use livestock as a part of 4-H, FFA and other leadership programs, but youth under 18 would be prohibited from being near certain animals without adult supervision under the regulations.
Another concern with the proposal cited by the coalition is a potential prohibition on youth harvesting fruits and vegetables, which would prevent high school and college students from working what are considered traditional summer jobs in rural areas. Such regulation would create an even tighter supply of agriculture labor at a time when it is much needed.