Let's establish this right out of the gate so as not to confuse issues: It is wrong when corporations use child labor. Forgetting the law for a moment, whether it is here in the U.S. or overseas, children are children, and corporations should not exploit children. Got it? With that said, this is not about corporations, this is about families and farms. More specifically, family farms and the overreach of the federal government.
For centuries, even before there was Willie Nelson and FarmAid, farming throughout the world (including here in the United States) has largely been a family affair. That is, parents and their children (when not in school) work from dawn until dusk to put food on the family table, and the tables of others.
Recognizing this, when child labor laws were developed in the last century, there was an exemption built in for family farms. Now, however, the concept of the family farm may be getting gutted if the Obama Labor Department has its way.
Under a proposed "dramatic updating" of the nation's child labor regulations, the Department of Labor is considering eliminating many of the tasks that children and young adults do on their family's farm.
Although the DOL's website specifically states, "The proposed regulations would not apply to children working on farms owned by their parents," the regulations would (presumably) apply to farms owned by grandparents and other, non-parental family members.
Moreover, as the Milwaukee's Journal-Sentinel notes, many family farms are legally structured, which could remove it from the parental farm exemption:
Under the proposed rules, according to the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, someone under 18 would not be allowed to do many chores for a neighbor or even their own family's farm if it's set up as a corporation or a business partnership.
Today, many family farms are legally structured as corporations or partnerships.
Under the DOL's proposal [emphasis added], the following tasks would be outlawed :
- 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 youth in both agricultural and nonagricultural employment from using electronic devices, including communication devices, while operating power-driven equipment.
- Prohibiting hired farm workers under the age of 16 from operating almost all power-driven equipment. A similar prohibition has existed as part of the nonagricultural child labor provisions for more than 50 years. A limited exemption would permit some student-learners to operate certain farm implements and tractors (when equipped with proper rollover protection structures and seat belts) under specified conditions.
- 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 country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.
While many might view this as merely a simple example of bureaucratic overreach, diminishing a family's ability to actually tend to their farm as a family could put many of them out of business since they could be forced to hire workers to fulfill the chores that their children are doing.
Of course, for those farms that can afford to hire employees and stay in business, this could be what the Department of Labor is counting on—especially in states like Hilda Solis' home state of California, where farm workers can be unionized.
There are, according to the Department of Labor's website, a couple of days left for the public to comment:
On October 31, 2011, the Department published a notice to extend the comment period to December 1, 2011, because of requests received to extend the period for filing public comments and the Department’s desire to obtain as much information about its proposals as possible. Interested parties are invited to submit written comments on the proposed rule at www.regulations.gov.
For more information about the DOL's proposal, go to its website here.
Note: Neither Willie Nelson, nor FarmAid returned a request for a statement.
“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776
Cross-posted on LaborUnionReport.com.