Child Labor Law Issue Far From Over

Safety specialist fears final rule could still have great impact on rural work opportunities.

Published on: Mar 2, 2012

The proposed rule change by the Department of Labor that would severely hamper the ability of anyone under 18 from working on a farm or ag industry drew a firestorm of criticism, both form citizens, state safety experts, and even prompted petition drives from FFA chapters. Comment period on the rule ended December 1.

The part that on the surface offended many people was that there were tight restrictions on any exemptions for children under the age of 18 to work on their parent's own farm. Recent vibes indicate that the Department of Labor may be willing to back off on that language, but Bill Field, Purdue University farm safety specialist, says that far from solving the damage that could be done to youth training programs and organizations of the rest of the rule is allowed to stand.

One sticking point under the law is that as the rule was originally worded, the exemption, for what it was worth, was only for children on family farms. If the farm was incorporated, the law would look at it in the rule as a corporate farm, and there would be no exemption. Yet the vast majority of farms incorporated today consider themselves as family farms. The incorporation was simply a business decision to help on tax and planning purposes.

The bigger problem, Field says, is that everyone is getting hung up on this section of the law, and not thinking about what still lies within the other 49 pages of the proposal. If it stays as is, without revision, he says it would cripple most 4-H and FFA supervised training programs. In FFA students are encouraged to have a supervised ag experience program. Often it is working for someone else in an ag field, or on a farm. Proficiency and star awards, issued long before the student turns 18, are made on the basis of these activities. It's unclear what might happen to these programs if the current wording is allowed to stand.

The comment period is over, but it's not too late to let representatives and senators know your thoughts. It's still unclear when Labor will issue the final ruling.