A sensible step back on farm-labor rules

The U.S. Department of Labor announced last Friday that it is abandoning efforts to establish new regulation for children working on farms, including family farms, a welcome decision, despite the complaints of some child welfare advocates.

Simply put, the rules went too far, even in their amended form. They could have prevented teen workers from doing things like driving tractors, working grain silos or feedlots, or working with mature livestock, even on farms owned by their grandparents or other relatives.

The proposed regulations were amended earlier this year to make it clear they wouldn’t prohibit teens from engaging in such activity on farms owned by their parents.

Even so, the rules would have severely affected the ability of many youngsters to work on their relatives’ or neighbors’ farms. Often, those sorts of on-farm jobs are the first jobs available to youngsters in rural areas. And farmers, in turn, often depend on area teens for needed labor.

The proposed rules angered many members of Congress, including a number of key Democratic lawmakers from major agricultural states.

Sen. John Tester, D-Montana, had promised to fight “any measure that threatens that heritage and our rural way of life.” And Sen. Al Franken,  Democrat from Minnesota, described the Labor Department’s decision to withdraw the proposed rules as “a good outcome.”

Colorado’s 3rd District Congressman Scott Tipton, a Republican, was one of the first people in Washington to raise a hue and cry about the regulatory proposal.

Friday’s announcement said, “The Obama administration is ... deeply committed to listening and responding to what Americans across the country have to say about proposed rules and regulations. As a result, the Department of Labor is announcing today the withdrawal of the proposed rule dealing with children under the age of 16 who work in agricultural vocations.”

One representative of a child advocacy group told the Associated Press last week that the public debate over the rules focused too much on family farms, when the more serious concern involve poor migrant children who work on farms and who, the advocate claimed, are often put in dangerous situations on large farms.

That may be true, but the regulations were written so they affected family farms, not just farms using migrant workers.

Some changes in farm-labor rules as they apply to minors may be needed, but not these sweeping regulations that would have upended traditional farm practices throughout rural America. The Obama administration did the proper thing in withdrawing the proposed rules.


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