DOL Child Labor Regulations Comments
December 1, 2011
Wage and Hour Division
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210
RE: [RIN 1235–AA06] Child Labor Regulations, Orders and Statements of Interpretation; Child Labor Violations—Civil Money Penalties; Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Request for Comments
Dear Sir or Madam:
The undersigned organizations represent a significant portion of the production agriculture sector, and we are committed to producing safe and wholesome food products for the people of the United States and the world. We are also committed to ensuring that the workers on our farms and ranches work in conditions that are safe. We appreciate the efforts of the Department of Labor (DOL) to develop regulations on the future of labor on farms and the opportunity to offer comments on the proposed rule.
At the outset, we must state that we believe DOL has turned off course with this proposal and that what may have begun as a well-intentioned change to current law has resulted in a misguided proposal that will have damaging effects on farms and ranches across rural America.
For generations, youths have been working on farms and ranches and providing necessary and valuable input into the daily operations. While the U.S. agriculture sector has transitioned in the 21st century into one of the most innovative and progressive industries in the country, the role for youths at those operations has not disappeared. Aside from the vast benefits that farms receive from the contributions of these individuals, one cannot ignore the valuable experience the youths themselves gain. It has long been recognized that farms and ranches provide an environment for youths to learn responsibility, an appreciation for hard work and a strong work ethic. Further, there are organizations that exist, such as 4-H and FFA, whose sole purpose is to foster these very qualities in youths, and typically this is conducted through working on leadership projects on farms and ranches, in some cases beginning in adolescence. This regulation would gravely affect these long recognized youth leadership programs and the youths who benefit from being involved in them. It appears that the far-reaching consequences of this proposed rule were never considered by DOL before the rule was issued.
Specific sections of this regulation that we would like to call your attention to are as follows:
1. Parental Exemption:
In today’s modern agriculture system, many different business models and arrangements have evolved that best suit the individual needs of specific farms and ranches. “Family farms” are still in existence across America, but a rigid regulation that only allows youths to work on family farms owned and operated by their own parents is misguided. Further, the rule contains no clear definition of a family farm. In many families, several family members have come together to form a limited liability corporation ( LLC) because it is a wise business decision for that particular farm or ranch when it comes to hiring farm workers, tax requirements, banking needs, etc. Perhaps a youth’s parents are not owners or partners in the LLC, but they work for the operation. Under this situation, the youth would not be permitted to work at this farm or ranch. Additionally, it is a very common occurrence in rural America to have youths employed on a farm or ranch run by grandparents or an aunt and uncle or some other family member. Under the new regulation this, too, would be illegal. And finally, there are numerous examples of youths who work on farms and ranches simply because it is the best paying, most rewarding employment they can find since many farms and ranches pay above minimum wage. Why should an ambitious youth be precluded from taking advantage of this opportunity?
2. Hazardous Occupation 1—Tasks Involving Machinery:
The provisions on youths “operating a tractor of over 20 PTO horsepower, or connecting or disconnecting an implement or any of its parts to or from such a tractor” and “Operating or assisting to operate (including starting, stopping, adjusting, feeding, or any other activity involving physical contact associated with the operation) any of the following machines: corn picker, grain combine, hay mower, forage harvester, hay baler … auger conveyor, the unloading mechanism of a nongravity type self-unloading wagon or trailer …” seem to convey that DOL’s desire is for youth to be prohibited from participating in common farm practices all together. Agriculture is a technology driven industry, and machinery is used on farms and ranches daily for a variety of purposes. This proposal will ban youths’ involvement with any type of farm machinery over 20 PTO horsepower, including simple tasks such as fueling and repairing equipment. We understand there is risk involved in using these types of equipment because of the sheer power of these implements. However, we feel there is a place for youth involvement in working with machinery and that with proper adult oversight these activities should be permitted.
3. Hazardous Occupation 4—Tasks Involving Working With or Around Livestock:
This provision is particularly disturbing. Many youths exhibit livestock as part of leadership programs, and this experience often influences the career path of those youths. Limitations on youths’ involvement with livestock would only result in lost valuable experience. Further, it is not a common practice on farms and ranches to send a youth, unattended by an adult, into an enclosure housing a bull, boar, nursing cow or nursing sow. Safety is always a priority for farmers and ranchers, and they would not make it a common practice to have youths handle potentially dangerous livestock alone. Farmers and ranchers are concerned that this rule would limit youths’ ability to work at certain operations altogether simply because there is mature livestock on site.
Additionally, not allowing youths to participate in “practices that inflict pain upon the animal” is an unreasonable proposal. This would limit youths from simply being in the same enclosure as a veterinarian vaccinating an animal or participating in an activity such as hoof trimming, tail docking or castration. Modern technology is used in these circumstances to ensure that individuals are protected from animals that could be in
distress; often times the procedure is done with the assistance of a professional, and the animal is in a chute or restrained so that it cannot access and cause harm to individuals.
4. Hazardous Occupation 6—Task Involving Work at Elevations:
Under the proposed regulation, youths would be prohibited from work on elevated farm structures, including silos, grain bins, windmills, ladders, vehicles and machines over 6 feet. This proposal is absurd given that many common activities conducted on farms and ranches occur at elevated heights, and extra safety precautions are employed when working at these elevations. One could conclude from this provision that DOL has no comprehension of common practices that must occur on farms and ranches to keep the operation running. Simple activities such as removing hay from an elevator, shoveling grain out of bins and silos and driving a piece of equipment would be deemed illegal under this proposal. Further, simple maintenance on farms and ranches is a common occurrence. This includes activities from painting buildings to changing light bulbs—all of which would be deemed off limits for youths if they would be required to work over 6 feet. Any youth working on a farm or ranch and any farmer or rancher will tell you that they take extra care when it comes to having to work at elevated heights. Additionally, employment of youths at businesses such as livestock auction barns or grain elevators will now be deemed illegal, simply because these types of facilities often contain elevated walks. Despite widespread understanding across rural America of these common practices on farms and ranches, it seems DOL believes there is a pervasive problem on farms and ranches where these commonplace activities are currently be conducted haphazardly.
5. Hazardous Occupation 8—Tasks Involving Work Around Manure Storage:
Under the proposed regulation, youths would be prohibited from “all work in a manure pit.” Several points need to be addressed on this provision. First, the definition of a “manure pit” is not clearly stated in the regulation. In many modern livestock production facilities, such as swine barns, floors are slated to allow manure to fall into storage below the building. Would these barns be included in the prohibition? That would result in youths being prohibited from working in many swine barns all together. Second, the manure is then transported to a lagoon or slurry-type system for storage. Maintenance of these sorts of storage containers is typically conducted by professionals, who use proper safety equipment. Certainly, on occasion, the assistance of a youth may be necessary for work near manure storage facilities. A blanket ban on youths’ involvement is ill-conceived and could put farmers and ranchers in legal jeopardy because of unforeseen circumstances.
After review of this proposed rule, it is clear to the under signed groups that DOL has a very shallow understanding of modern livestock and poultry production. We believe DOL could have benefitted greatly from input from organizations such as ours to determine what the real-world effects are of such a regulation. Had DOL sought our input on this proposed rule, a much more workable solution could have been put forth that would be manageable for the individuals this rule is intended to regulate: America’s farmers and ranchers. What has been proposed in this rule seems to be an all-out ban on youth involvement in nearly all activities that occur on farms and ranches.
The livelihoods of America’s farmers and ranchers are wrapped into their farms and ranches. This rule seems to suggest that DOL believes farmers and ranchers are acting irresponsibly and dangerously on their operations when it comes to employing youths, an assumption that couldn’t be further from the truth. What has been proposed in this rule seems to be an attempt at achieving an environment that is “zero risk,” which is unattainable and unrealistic. We request that DOL make considerable changes to the proposed rule before it is finalized. Should it not make the changes, America’s farmers and ranchers will face considerable challenges in their efforts to produce safe and wholesome food products for the people of the United States and the world.
American Sheep Industry Association
National Pork Producers Council
National Turkey Federation