PERKOWSKI Capital Press 4/26/12
Political pressure from farm groups has
convinced the federal government to call off stricter
enforcement of on-farm child labor rules.
Farm families that incorporate for tax or
legal reasons won't be subject to tighter child labor
restrictions previously planned by the U.S. Labor
The change was the result of continual
outspoken criticism from agricultural organizations across
the U.S. since the proposal was announced nearly eight
"The grass roots reaction to this has been
absolutely unprecedented," said Frank Gasperini, executive
vice president of the National Council of Agricultural
Employers. "People didn't just get angry. They took real
The U.S. Labor Department said a proposed
on-farm child labor rule will be scrapped for the rest of
President Obama's time in office due to "thousands of
comments expressing concerns about the effect of the
proposed rules on small family-owned farms," the agency said
in its announcement.
The agency instead plans to cooperate with
farm groups to improve safety practices.
"The Obama administration is firmly committed
to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of
life, especially the role that parents and other family
members play in passing those traditions down through the
generations," the agency said.
Last year, the Labor Department proposed
child labor regulations aimed at promoting equality between
farming and other industries.
Although children under 16 who work for their
parents would have been excluded from these and other child
labor rules, the agency's interpretation of that exception
Corporations or partnerships not solely owned
by the parents would not have been exempted from the child
labor rules because the agency thought they "might not
always have the child's best interests at heart."
The rule angered farm groups, which worried
that agricultural companies owned by multiple generations of
a family, or by numerous family members, would no longer be
allowed to employ their children for many tasks.
Children younger than 16 would also have been
prohibited from working cattle on horseback or using
equipment that's not powered by hand or foot, among other
provisions, which further stoked opposition to the rules.
The agriculture industry's reaction to the
new regulations was particularly vocal because farm and
ranch organizations weren't consulted about the proposal
during the planning stage, said Gasperini.
The Labor Department may now be more open to
hearing the industry's views about improving child safety on
farms, he said. "I hope they will do it through stakeholder
State agriculture groups were particularly
effective at being passionate in their opposition without
resorting to the kind of vitriol that would land their
complaints in the "nut file," Gasperini said.
"They've been rational, reasonable and just
kept the pressure up," he said.
Paul Schlegel, of the American Farm Bureau
Federation, said the organization had filed a Freedom of
Information Act request to see documentation supporting the
narrower "parental exemption" to child labor rules.
"There was nothing they gave us that would
give us a basis for why they changed it," he said, noting
that the group is still expecting the agency to provide more
Though the issue was particularly heated in
rural states that aren't expected to play a deciding role in
the upcoming presidential election, the timing and the
united effort of farm groups were helpful, said Gasperini.
"I suspect the fact it's an election year
didn't hurt," he said, adding that lawmakers got an earful
about the subject. "There was a lot of pressure put on
The proposal was facing bipartisan opposition
and legislation aimed at preventing the stricter rules, said
Schlegel. "They probably saw the handwriting on the wall."