Misguided Interference by Uncle Sam


America's rural lifestyle has long been under attack, whether from economic downturns, the weather, the EPA or animal rights group. Now we have to fight for our very future on another front - the Department of Labor.

Children are vital to the health of the rural economy, and our farm and ranch lifestyle is vital to raising intelligent, hard-working adults. Now proposed changes in the child labor laws is threatening our heritage.

In one of Nebraska's most rural counties, the Custer County Chief broke the story. According to the details printed there,
The changes are pointedly aimed at agriculture and would severely limit opportunities for young people on the farm or ranch, and in some cases eliminate them, until they are at least 16, or in some instances 18 years of age.

There is a partial exemption for kids working for their mom or dad. That exemption does not extend, however outside that narrow definition. Uncles, aunts, grandparents are not considered. Furthermore, if the teenager is paid then the parents are considered a business and the exemptions are no longer allowed. These rules would also most likely impact youth groups like 4-H and FFA.

Other proposed changes prohibit certain occupations involving working with or around animals including handling animals with known dangerous behaviors; assisting in animal husbandry practices that inflict pain upon animal or result in unpredictable behavior (such as branding, breeding, dehorning, vaccinating, castrating and treating sick or injured animals); poultry catching or cooping in preparation for market; working in a yard, pen or stall of an intact(non-castrated male animal or with female animals with suckling offspring or umbilical cords present; herding animals in confined spaces or on horseback, or using motorized vehicles such as trucks or all-terrain vehicles.

Several proposals are aimed specifically at tractor use.
Tractors operated by 14 and 15-year old youth must be equipped with approved Roll-Over Protective Structures (ROPS) and seatbelts; and that seatbelt use be mandated. This would prohibit the use of tractors of any horsepower, including small garden-tractors; whereby the training exemption will either be removed or changed to 90 hours of study.

It would prohibit the use of electronic devices, including communication devices, while operating tractors, power-driven equipment and motor vehicles and restrict use of all power-driven equipment (similar to that of non-agricultural industries). That would seem to be a very broad definition encompassing almost all equipment used on the farm.

Another proposal would restrict young people from working on elevated structures over six feet high. Most combine cabs are over six feet. There are question being asked. Are they not allowed to use ladders either? Do barn lofts fall under this ruling?

The Department of Labor seems to contrast sharply with the wishes of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack who is looking for ways for more young people to get involved in farming and ranching.

Do any of these activities sound familiar to you? If you grew up on a farm or a ranch, they were all probably part of your chores or duties from the time you could toddle around the farm yard carrying a bucket.

Here's what to do:

To submit comments:

1. Log on to www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=WHD-2011-0001-0001
2. Enter required information in section 1 including name and address
3. Type comment in section 2
4. Review your comments – the U.S. Department of Labor urges the commenter to carefully consider that their submissions are a matter of public record and will be publicly accessible on the internet
5. Submit

Comments must be submitted on or before December 1, 2011


  1. If we had all those rules growing up on the farm, I might as well have lived in town. Even if they pass all those rule, how are they going to enforce them?

  2. I wish I'd had the childhood opportunity to do just one of the things on your list. Suburban kids miss out.

  3. Thanks for the comments! After the comment period closed, I browsed through the posted comments. There were nearly 11,000 of them, all reiterating what a great education and lifestyle rural kids have, and how these rules would, in effect, put an end to it. Hopefully DOL will get the message and quit messing in our lives!

  4. These changes to the child labor laws are necessary in order to provide additional employment opportunities for the illegal (sorry, I mean "undocumented") agricultural workers from south of the border.

  5. Interesting point of view... I never did hear the final outcome of the proposed new rules. I foresee lots of farm families ignoring them if they are enacted.


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