Just two weeks ago, this website reported that the U.S. Department of Labor was moving ahead with new farm labor regulations regarding youth. The agency's action immediately ignited a firestorm reaction from the agricultural community.
Feeling the heat from thousands of farmers, farm organizations and congressional representatives, the agency announced yesterday that it was withdrawing its controversial proposals, reported a jubilant Dean Norton, president of New York Farm Bureau.
The decision to withdraw the rule, including provisions to define 'parental exception' came after "thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms," acknowledged the DOL statement. "To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration."
The agency said its next steps will be to work with rural stakeholder groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, FFA and 4-H to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices. (Note: Those programs are already in place and effectively working. Injuries and fatalities of children and youth on farms have been declining in recent years.)
"Make no mistake," responded Norton. "This is a major victory for farm families and their strong grassroots activism. The agricultural community in across the nation saw this proposal clearly for what is was − a blatant regulatory overreach by Washington, D.C. Tens of thousands of negative comments and letters flooded Congress and USDOL, and we were victorious!
"I would be remiss if I didn't thank our friends from the New York Congressional delegation. Congressman Owens, Gibson, Hanna and Reed, along with Congresswomen Buerkle, Hayworth and Hochul deserve credit for their leadership and advocacy. Senator Schumer also used his influence to help us to defeat this draconian proposal. For that, we are very grateful and appreciative."
But Norton pointed out, no one deserves more credit than the hardworking rank and file farmers and farm organization. "Through their efforts, we raised awareness in the media, organized letter-writing campaigns and advocacy efforts, and ultimately we triumphed."
"We are extremely pleased that USDOL and particularly Secretary Solis finally saw the light. We can't afford to jeopardize agriculture's future. Hopefully, this offer to work collaboratively represents a change at USDOL that – that they want to work with us and not against us."